Exclusive: The McCain Women Speak Out

In the 2008 presidential race, candidates' family members are playing a more pronounced role in their campaigns than ever before. No where is this more evident than aboard Sen. John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus where wife Cindy McCain, mother Roberta McCain and daughter Meghan McCain are regular and influential fixtures.

"Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden sat down with the McCain women in an exclusive interview and found out just how much of a role they play in the Arizona senator's campaign.

The One Person He Trusts

Cindy McCain is at the heart of her husband's campaign now, but when the senator approached her initially about running for president again, she was understandably reluctant.


"I said hell no. I just didn't think I had wide enough shoulders for this again and I really had to think long and hard," she said.

After thinking about her son Jimmy — who is currently serving the military in Iraq — she changed her mind, fearful of what she thought might happen if her husband didn't run.

"I realized I had to do everything I could to help get him elected. He's the only man that understands not only what it means to send young women and men into combat but more importantly how to bring them home with honor and dignity and victory."

With this motivation, she thrust herself into the campaign, serving as the Senator's's main confidante. While Cindy McCain says she is not involved in the mechanics of the campaign, she believes she is the only one who tells him the truth.

"I am the one person he can trust," she said, "and I'm the one person who will tell him in the end exactly what I think and what's wrong -- you know, he needs to hear that sometimes."

Senator McCain heard this frank viewpoint in the summer when his campaign was stalling. It was spending much more money than it was raising and Cindy McCain made her concerns about the bottom line known.

"I look at our campaign and I look at our campaign as a business, I run a business, I have a bottom line, you have to have a bottom line, and what I saw is something that wasn't meeting the bottom line," she said.

In July, Senator McCain's campaign manager, Terry Nelson, and chief strategist, John Weaver, resigned from his campaign staff, along with several other senior aides. While Mrs. McCain acknowledges that she gave her husband advice, she insists she was not the force behind the staff shake-up.

"I was not part of the shake-up, I was simply part of giving him advice, and he could do with it what he wanted," she said. She added that "the decisions were his, but I did give him advice. I did, and I think he made the right decision too."

This decision led to what she believes is now a smaller, more tightly managed campaign that better reflects the senator's style.

"John's a very frugal person [and] really prefers a very lean mean machine and that's where we're at," she said. "And he thrives in that environment and having to work harder and smaller, he doesn't like big machines, he really enjoys where we're at right now."

While the senator may enjoy where they're at, it's certainly not ideal. Senator McCain is polling in fourth place in South Carolina as well as other early primary states, trailing behind Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney in fundraising as well.

Even so, Cindy McCain, who is from a wealthy family and has a considerable personal fortune, has declined to invest any of her own money in the campaign.

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