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McCain: Veteran Campaigner

Every national poll shows Texas Gov. George W. Bush with at least a 60 percent lead over U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But no doubt it would take much more than some numbers from a poll to make McCain call it quits.

A prisoner of war for 5 ½ years, from October 1967 to March 1973, McCain's story gained the attention of the American public. Now, he hopes to gain their votes for the presidency of the United States. He was on the stump Thursday morning in Laconia, N.H.

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Recent polls show McCain gaining on Bush in New Hampshire and other early primary states. The latest poll shows Bush holding a slim lead in New Hampshire but an insurmountable lead nationwide.

McCain himself admits that he is "the underdog." But he also pointed out, during an interview with Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel, that his campaign is picking up momentum. "I'm pleased with where we are. I'm very pleased with the progress we've made. And I still recognize we have a long way to go."

His primary issue is campaign finance reform, which may be an anomaly in a campaign that is centering on health care reform, education, and Social Security. But McCain said all reform hinges on campaign finance.

"If you don't get these huge amounts of special interest money out of the political process, we'll never get the kind of reforms, including the patients' bill of rights, that Americans yearn for," said the senator. "Young Americans are becoming cynical. We had the lowest turnout of young Americans in the last election. Americans want to get their government back. I intend to give it to them."

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Salon.comHot Head Or Hot Air?
Who says John McCain doesn't have te temperament to be president?

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that McCain has extensively used private aircraft owned by corporations and wealthy donors. While that is not illegal, Gumbel questioned McCain as to whether it is within the spirit of the law for someone who has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his career.

McCain said he believes it is within both the letter and the spirit of the law.

"It's about the only way I can get from one place to another in this campaign... I don't think that it's a huge deal," he said. "Every presidential candidate has done it. I wish I didn't have to, but it's one of those things."

Gumbel cited poll numbers that suggest that, of all the major candidates, McCain is the least familiar to the public. But the more familiar he becomes, the more his unfavorable numbers increase.

McCain, while disputing those poll numbers, replied that his campaign is enjoying "grass roots support. We have a lot of sergeants and corporals and privates. I couldn't be happier. I'm not afraid of losing. We have great supporters, a wonderful campaign. It's one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. That's the way it's going to be."

Over the years, the senator has been tagged as a man with a troubling temper. How does he fight the image that he is too hot-headed to be on the presidential hot seat?

McCain's response is that his record does not indicate that he has made impulsively angry decisions. And, he adds, "I feel passionately about issues. I feel passionately when enlisted men and women are on food stamps in our military. I get angry about it. They are pleased, they tell me, that I get angry about it and defend them and defend the things I think are correct and fight against hypocrisy and especially the fact that the government has been taken away from the people. I'm pleased that I feel that way."

Gumbel, noting that McCain likes and admires Bush, asked how the senator views the governor's inability last week to name the leaders of several world hot spots.

"I thought it was unfair," McCain replied. "I think that this is not a game of Jeopardy."

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