McCain, participating in an MTV-MySpace forum shown live, appealed to students at Southern New Hampshire University. The 71-year-old Arizona senator offered lighter versions of his common campaign answers and engaged with the students in person and online. He also flubbed several scripted jokes and mistakenly called Osama bin Laden "Saddam Hussein."
"You might've seen three weeks ago, Saddam Hussein got a video out around the world that reached - excuse me - not Saddam Hussein. He's no longer with us, thank God," McCain said to applause.
Realizing he had confused the al Qaeda leader with the dead Iraqi president, McCain turned to the audience and laughed.
"I want to mention again, Saddam Hussein is dead," he said. "Duh."
McCain talked about the war in Iraq, public education and his belief that climate change must be vigorously addressed, a position that stands him apart from most of the GOP presidential field. He told students that unless something changes, the Social Security system will not be there when they need it.
"I'm not the youngest guy in this race," he said. "We know that. But I am the most experienced."
He mixed up his oft-repeated line about the virtues of his age and experience. "I'm older than Frankenstein and have a few scars," he began, before correcting himself: "I'm older than dirt and got more scars than Frankenstein. I screwed up that line."
McCain, who a day earlier picked up the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, is on a five-day trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state. He was quick to joke with the university crowd. "Some more of those lousy statistics?" McCain asked when a moderator cited live online reaction to his remarks.
He told his audience that his rivals should run national security policy based on reality, not on cable drama, emphasizing the point by making up dialogue for "24," in which the protagonist makes bad guys talk by threatening to hurt them.
"We all love Jack Bauer," he said. "'Where's the nuclear weapon?' 'I'm not telling.' Blam, blows the kneecap off and 'I'll tell ya."'
That's not real life, said McCain, a former Vietnam POW at odds with some rivals and members of the Bush administration over what interrogation techniques should be ruled out as torture. "It's not Jack Bauer. It's not '24.'"