Hey, scoundrels!

Arizona Senator John McCain greeted a handfull of reporters in Grinnell just before noon today:  "All right, you scoundrels! How are you?"  What follows is a transcript of the give-and-take with the journalists:

Q:  Are you sure you want to stand against a post?  (McCain positioned himself with, you guessed it, his back against a post.)  If we surround you, there’s no way out.

McCain:  Can I just say that I’m happy to be back in Iowa and Danny Carroll, obviously, is a key race and I appreciate everything that he’s done and I’m looking forward to meeting some of his friends and neighbors this morning and glad to be back from Phoenix where the temperature is supposed to be 110 degrees today.

Q:  Why do you want to campaign in Iowa?

McCain:  Well, obviously Iowa is important.  Let’s have some ‘straight talk.’  The Iowa Caucuses are very important.  We have not decided whether to run or not, much less whether to come to Iowa or not but Iowa is a very important state in a broad, variety of reasons and I’m glad to be here but I am also campaigning all over the country.  I’m in South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin.  I’m doing what I do every even-numbered year and that’s campaigning for Republican candidates.

Q:  But you’re making multiple appearances here and there are those who are taking from that the assumption that should you decide to run you’ll compete here compared to 2000.

McCain:  Well, since we haven’t decided whether to run or not, we haven’t decided whether we’ll compete here but I think you could make the argument that it’s very different from 2000 in that in 2000 I was the outsider and brand new and we could afford to pass up on Iowa.  As I say, it’ll be part of the decision-making process but certainly conditions are not the same as they were in 2000, politically.

Q:  Because in 2008 you’re the frontrunner.

McCain:  Well, I still remember with great clarity President Muskee and President Romney — the earlier Governor Romney of Michigan.  That’s not too important.

Q:  So does that mean you’re the establishment candidate?

McCain:  Look, if I run and we’ll decide early next year there’s a lot of work to do.  Here in Iowa, there’s parts of the party that there’s still lingering resentment over the 2000 race, so we would have a lot of work to do.  I think it’s nice to be the ‘perceived front-runner’ but I don’t really, I think the nomination would be up for grabs, I really do.

Q:  One of the balancing acts that people say you have to do is the balancing act between being the kind of renegade, rebel outsider in 2000 and being the mainstream, establishment candidate this time.  Talk about that.  How do you do that?

McCain:  Oh, you run on your record.  You run on your record.  I’ve got a long, 24 year record, now, in the House and the Senate of fiscal conservative, national security, support for the military.  I’ve supported this president and I’m very happy to do so on most issues including the most important one, the war in Iraq and national security issues but the most important thing is what kind of vision you present to the voters as to how you’re going to lead America.  These are very dangerous times in the world and in the view of some probably the most dangerous times when you take a look around the world today — the war in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, our own hemisphere this guy Chavez — there’s many, many challenges that face our nation so people really want to know what you’re going to do for them much more than they want to know what you’ve done and that’s appropriate, I think.

Q:  Part of your record has been criticism of ethanol, the subisides and tax breaks that it receives.  Have you modified that in any way?

McCain:  My position on ethanol was, is support of ethanol when oil went over $40 a barrel.  I do not support subsidies but I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, vital alternate energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but also because of its greenhouse gas reduction effects and so, I don’t support any subsidies, but, so I certainly wouldn’t in the case of ethanol but I am a strong supporter of ethanol because I do not seen any scenario where the price of oil is going to go back down again.  I wish that I could but I have no expectation that predicts the price of oil is every going to go down again.

Q:  Senator, you talked in the past — you’re a conservative, but you’ve talked about being a centrist and trying to unify the whole country and appealing to Democrats and Independents — does the Caucus here, dominated as it is by conservatives, make you have to fight against that natural impulse to reach out?

McCain:  I don’t know, Mark.  I think that most people attribute our low approval ratings of cognress to our inability to get anything done, that we’ve not really accomplished anything and that as you well know, as least in the senate, requires at least some level of bipartisanship because of the 60 vote requirement.  I think most Americans are wanting us to work together on certain issues and I will, if I run, speak with pride over the things that I’ve been able to do in a bipartisan fashion and I understand and appreciate the bitterness in American political climate today.  I watched the Lieberman thing, the Joe Schwartz election.  I pay close attention to them but I still, every poll and every indicator that I see — people want us to work together on issues that transcend partisan politics.

Q:  And that message can be a winner in the Caucuses?

McCain:  I think so.  I think that you have to take strong stands on issues, obviously and I’m proud of my fiscal conservative, national security, many other positions which I’ll match with any candidate because I am a conservative but I also will tell people that if I ever was in the White House, if I run, that I will reach across the aisle.  You’ve got to do it.  We have to do it.  Social Security has to be fixed.  Medicare and Medicaid have to be fixed and you’re not going to do it without a bipartisan approach.  Anything else.  Thanks very much.

Mark Halperin continues with the questions:  Can you name the Republican candidate for senate in Connecticut who you’re supporting?

McCain:  Um, his name starts with an S and it’s (laughter)

Q:  Were you surprised?  Are you not supporting your friend Joe Lieberman over somebody you don’t know?

McCain:  I just have to support Republican candidates.

(A give-and-take continues between Halperin and McCain about the CT race, much of which is mumbling on McCain’s part so it cannot be transcribed)

Q:  Would it be bad for the country if Senator Lieberman lost?

McCain:  Uh, I don’t know if it’s bad for the country but it certainly sends the signal that they were able to exercise a degree of discipline…."It’s a complicated thing," McCain said about Lieberman losing the primary and running as an Independent.  "We’ve never seen this before so it’s hard for us to figure out…One thing Joe is going to need is money.  I talked to him yesterday, by the way." 

McCain said of Lieberman:  "He’s my friend.  I’m sorry it happened to him."  McCain described Lieberman as "upbeat.  He’s optimistic by nature."  John Whitesides then asked if Lieberman had asked for McCain’s support of his Independent bid to retain his Senate seat.  "No," McCain said.  "I know what it’s like to lose.  I remember very well.  You know my joke — I’ve forgotten who I stole it from — after I lost in South Carolina I slept like a baby.  I slept for two hours, woke up and cried."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.