stated unequivocally in an interview with Politico Wednesday that he would not pledge to serve only a single four-year term, rejecting a suggestion that some allies believe would allay questions about his age and underscore his non-partisan message of putting country first.
"No," McCain said flatly, "I'm not considering it."
There has been speculation that McCain, 71, could couple a single term promise with a untraditional running mate such as Democrat-turned-Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman to make the case that he would shove political interests aside and run a consensus-oriented government with the Democratic-held Congress.
McCain did, though, sketch out in a half-hour conversation in this college town not far from the Mexican border what his presidency would look like, drawing implicit contrasts with President Bush in the process. Speaking to Politico just after finishing a town hall meeting, the Arizona senator vowed closer relations with Congress, a more open dialogue with the American people and a commitment to address some of the thorniest issues facing the country.
But he declined to outwardly criticize Bush and flatly stated that he wouldn't do anything as president to underscore his difference with the unpopular incumbent.
"I don't have any need to show that I'm different than President Bush," McCain said when asked if he'd take any steps after being elected to demonstrate where he'd diverge from his predecessor.
McCain made plain, however, that he would aim to take a far more transparent and consensus-oriented approach than Bush, whose promise to be a uniter, not a divider, was unfulfilled.
"First thing I'd do [as president] is to go to see the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate - I assume that that would be Sen. Reid, I hope not, but I think that's probably the reality of this election - and I would say let's have an agenda, let's work together, we know what the solutions are and we know what the options are - Social Security, on restraining spending, on Medicare, on all of these, energy independence, on all of these issues," McCain said when asked how his approach to governance and politics would differ from Bush.
He promised he'd give the Democratic leaders "all the credit" and cast the bipartisanship as a win-win for all parties.
"Let's show the American people…that there are opportunities for us to work together for the good of the country," McCain said. "And I think that they would benefit as much or more as I would."
McCain added: "I'm not being elected dictator - I'm being elected president. And you have to work with Congress. And they know the priorities as well as I do."
As for those priorities, and specifically what the two parties could accomplish together in the first 100 days of a McCain presidency, he touched on spending cuts and entitlement reform before talking in more general terms.
After the interview, his traveling press secretary sent an email message clarifying what the Republican's goals would be after being sworn in.
"Senator McCain's priorities during the first 100 days of his administration include ensuring a safe and secure nation, implementing a plan of action to get the economy moving, and reforming Social Security and Medicare for the sake of future generations," said Brooke Buchanan.
McCain made no specific mention of the economy in his initial answer, only speaking of making "the country safer both from domestic and foreign challenges."
Discussing the public image of his prospective administration, McCain promised to take a series of extraordinary steps to increase his access to citizens.
He said he'd do "Question Time" along the sme lines of the British Prime Minister's regular appearances before Parliament in the House or Senate chamber "once every couple weeks."
Further, he reiterated a campaign pledge he made during the primary to hold weekly press conferences and expanded upon that proposal.
McCain said he'd take to C-SPAN "all the time" to offer "a full and complete explanation of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it."
It was something that would have been valuable in recent years, he noted.
"During the war in Iraq, once the surge started anyway, if I'd have been president, I would have gone on C-SPAN once a week," McCain noted. "I'd say, 'Here's Iraq, now here's what's happening, here's why Basra is so dangerous, here's what's going on in Ramadi."
McCain has, however, severely limited access to reporters during this election campaign - a radical shift from his freewheeling, anything-goes approach to media relations in his 2000 presidential run and during the primary earlier this year.
Reminded that he had remarked unfavorably this year about the sort of guarded and on-message approach that he's now taking - deriding as 'unfun' a campaign in which he was sequestered from the press behind a curtain on an airplane - McCain was tight-lipped.
"We'll continue to try to get more access to the media," he said, tightly.
As for where the "old McCain" was, the senator hinted that he preferred being competitive to offering the sort of open exposure that delights reporters but often drowns out the campaign's preferred message of the day and can also lead to embarrassing gaffes.
"I think there's a lot of excitement, particularly in the last couple of weeks as we've come up in the polls," he said, reminding that "the object of it is winning."
McCain also suggested that, had Obama taken him up on his proposal to hold joint town halls, the increasingly negative contest would have been more high-minded and journalists would not be frustrated with the well-packaged campaigns.
"You would have, as the media, been happier because you'd have seen us together," McCain said. "And when you're standing on a stage with somebody, this is my political experience, it's hard to be quite as tough on them when you're looking them in the eye. It's when one of your surrogates is out there, et cetera."
By Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen