On the eve of the country's biggest presidential primary contest, Super Tuesday, the leading presidential candidates spoke with CBS News anchor Katie Couric about what they have yet to overcome. That ranged from assumptions about temperament to lagging support in key states.
The following is the full transcript of Couric's full discussion with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
KATIE COURIC: Let me first start by asking you, Sen. McCain, about some news of the day, if you will. Sen. Rick Santorum, who has endorsed Mitt Romney, has done automated call for the Romney campaign telling voters, quote, "As a conservative I don't agree with McCain on many issues. And I don't think he has the temperament and leadership ability to move the country in the right direction." What do you think about Rick Santorum's use of the word temperament and this automated call?
JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I'm just pleased and grateful that I have the support of so many senators who are still in the Senate. Ranging from the most conservative, Tom Coburn, to Trent Lott, to Richard Byrd and Lindsay Graham. To all of those. And the governors of the three largest states that we have as Republican governors: Charlie Crist, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now Rick Perry in Texas. And now, former governor [George] Pataki. I'm very grateful for the support that I have from so many elected officials. Including Jack Kemp and Phil Graham and so many others. And people I served with in the senate as well.
COURIC: Having said that, Sen. McCain, the temperament question has come up … at different times during the course of the campaign. Rick Santorum said he had witnessed problems with your temperament, which he declined to detail. And he said, quote, "I don't know anybody in the senate who hasn't. Everybody has their McCain story." What's your reaction to that?
MCCAIN: Again … I don't know what a defeated candidate for reelection who begged me to come up and campaign for him has to say. But I know what my other colleagues, those who I have served with, and those that I am serving with. So many of them who are supporting. More than anybody else.
Plus a large number … of senators that I have worked with over the years. And I am proud of the bipartisan work I've made, and proud of the endorsement and support of even Joe Lieberman. So I'm grateful for all of their support. And I'm really grateful for the record, and proud of the record that I have of getting things done in the United States Senate.
COURIC: Let me ask you more directly, Sen. McCain, you have a reputation as, and that you embrace, as a straight talker. You have conceded that there have been times in the past where you have said what's on your mind in no uncertain terms. Do you believe you have the temperament to be the president of the United States?
MCCAIN: Listen, have I gotten angry sometimes? Sure. When I investigated Jack Abramoff and saw corruption. When I see pork barrel spending and waste of the taxpayer's dollars. It's terrible. When I see a attempt to rip off $6 billion from the taxpayers by a coalition of corrupt people at Boeing … and the Department of Defense, sure.
And the people of Arizona would want me to be unhappy about those things. I'm proud of my record of fighting against waste and pork barrel spending. And getting things done. And, again, if you ask Jack Kemp, who I served with so many years ago, and if you ask Phil Graham, if you ask Trent Lott and Tom Coburn and all of those people that have supported me, I'm doing just fine.
COURIC: Have you ever popped off and regretted it senator?
MCCAIN: Oh, I'm sure that everybody in their life has, quote, "popped off", and regretted it. I have been the chairman of a major committee that has gotten legislation done in very large numbers. We've defended this nation. I'm so proud of my record in the United States Senate. And I'm so proud of the many, many people who serve in the senate and have served in the Senate.
Jack Danforth, one of our most respected senators, is my chairman in Missouri. The list goes on and on and I'm very proud of their support. And I think people can rely on their word.
COURIC: Sen. McCain, tomorrow is a really big day. Of course, you've been working very hard, as all the candidates have. As we approach Super Tuesday, and people get one final opportunity to make their choice, what do you perceive as the biggest weakness of your opponents?
MCCAIN: Inexperience and … uneven performance. Gov. Romney is governor of Massachusetts. Raised taxes $730 million. He left the state saddled with a $245 million debt because of his big government mandate on healthcare.
Manufacturing jobs fled his state. And he's had literally at least two positions on every major issue. I've been consistent. I've told people sometimes what they didn't want to hear as well as what they want to hear. And it's paid off.
He went to Michigan and told them the old jobs were coming back. I told them they weren't. He went to South Carolina and said … that the textile jobs were coming back. Nobody believed that. I've got a …
COURIC: But he won in the …
MCCAIN: …vision for the future.
COURIC: But he won in the state of Michigan, didn't he?
MCCAIN: Sure. Sure he did. And we've won the other ones because we tell the truth every place that we go.
COURIC: What about Mike Huckabee? What do you think is his biggest weakness?
MCCAIN: I don't know. I know … that Mike Huckabee has been subjected to … millions of dollars of attack ads by Mitt Romney who's spent, we don't know, $50, $60 million of his own money attacking him and me. But I think he's a very good and decent man. And I admire him and I admire his humor. And I think he's elevated the entire presidential debate and campaign.
COURIC: How important is it for you to win the state of California? And, if so, why?
MCCAIN: Well, California is a big state. I think we're doing well there. But we're gonna sweep all the, literally all the other states. And we're doing fine. We realize that it's that it's a tight race. It's also by congressional districts. So I think we'll do very well in California.
I'm glad to have the endorsement of Gov. Schwarzenegger, and also former Gov. Pete Wilson and others that are supporting my campaign. And I'm including Bill Simon. So I'm very grateful for the support we have. And I hope we have a big turn out tomorrow and I'll be optimistic.
But I know it's tough. Gov. Romney, again, has spent millions of his own money out there. But … I'm guardedly optimistic. And I'm very optimistic about taking the nomination of my party and the presidency.
COURIC: And, finally, Sen. McCain, you've spent the last few days sort of reiterating your conservative bona fides, if you will, talking about your positions. Also mentioning Ronald Reagan a fair amount. You still have some conservatives to convince that you are the appropriate standard bearer for the country. How do you think you're gonna do that? And do you think you will?
MCCAIN: Actually, I've been saying the same thing for the last couple years. But the point is that I have a solid conservative record. We are gaining many conservative votes, in a state like Florida, which was a closed republican primary. And we will all over America tomorrow.
I have a clear conservative record. I've never changed my position (LAUGHTER) with even numbered years. And I believe that the majority of conservative voters in my party will support me tomorrow. And we will reunite the party.
And we'll movie forward, and we'll win in November. And when you look at the electability issue, where I match up with either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama, that has a role also. Factor in some of the decisions that are made.
KATIE COURIC: They'll support you even if, as your 95 year old mom, Roberta, said, they have to hold their nose while they're doing it?
MCCAIN: Well, you know, I mean … in all due respect … my 95-year-old mother, I think, is very much entitled, and has earned her right to her views. The fact is I am uniting the party. The conservatives are coming along-- in very large numbers.
And the support that I have from the most conservative members of my party, I think, are also signals to the rest of the party as well. They are coming on board in very large numbers. Whether it be Jack Kemp and Tom Coburn and Steve Forbes and so many others. And Phil Graham and so many others that are leading conservatives in my party. I'm sure that we'll do just fine and unite the party and win in November.
COURIC: Sen. John McCain. Senator, thanks so much for taking the time.
MCCAIN: Thank you Katie. Thanks for having me on.
COURIC: Okay. Take care. Good luck tomorrow.
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