McCain: 'Having Fun' in the Home Stretch

Right now, the Republican presidential race is all over the map.

There's Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister who has shot up in the polls and who took the amazing step Monday of injecting Jesus Christ directly into a political advertisement.

To the strains of "Silent Night" and with a cross shape carefully framed over his shoulder, Huckabee makes a profession of faith in a Christmas greeting to Iowa voters.

Then there's the actor Fred Thompson, once greeted as a conservative savior, now fading fast and a little upset about it. There's the national front-runner Rudy Giuliani, who could well lose Iowa and New Hampshire both badly. And then there's Mitt Romney, once the solid front-runner in Iowa, now relentlessly attacking Huckabee, who's zoomed past him.


And as if all that upheaval, bad blood and unpredictability weren't enough, Monday in Hillsborough, N.H., there was yet another surprise — John McCain's endorsement by Joe Lieberman.

The same Lieberman, who just seven years ago was the Democratic candidate for vice president as Al Gore's running mate, jumped into the Republican contest to endorse McCain.

'Really Getting Into the Home Stretch'

"Being a Republican is important. Being a Democrat is important," Lieberman told reporters Monday. "But you know what is more important than that? The interest and well-being of the United States of America. Let's put America first again and John McCain is the man as president who will help us do that."

So with Republicans so deeply divided, McCain reached out to an independent Democrat for help.

Of course, as Lieberman — who has enraged Democrats with his staunch support of the Bush war policy — frankly admitted: "Let me just say something for the record — none of the Democratic candidates asked for my support. John McCain did."

It's that kind of race for Republicans. And so this was a very good day to check it out from McCain's perspective.

"Nightline" caught up with McCain just after 7 a.m. Monday in Concord, N.H., and boarded his bus, which, like always, is a rolling, nonstop news conference.

"We are having fun and we're, you know, really getting into the home stretch," he said.

Staying Out of Political 'Food Fights'

McCain clearly loves this campaigning, and it doesn't seem like a schtick. He also seems to be enjoying the fact that his opponents are cutting each other up, while he stays above the fray.

"I don't get in those food fights," he said, when asked about Huckabee and Romney's disagreement over foreign policy, and Huckabee's assertion that the Bush administration is arrogant. "I have been a consistent critic of the Bush administration in the handling of the war for nearly four years. I am the only Republican that is running that did that. What is the point of me calling the president arrogant, no matter whether he is Republican or Democrat?"

He is constantly moving in front of voters, as if he wants to prove something. At 71, he would be the oldest president ever elected.

But McCain doesn't see his age as an issue. "That's why I take my 95-year-old mother around with me to a lot of events," he said with a laugh. "She's incredibly alert and very bright and gives me a lot of good advice and counsel."

'Things Seem to Be Really Catching On'

McCain's 23-year-old daughter, Megan, travels with him, too. "It's really fun," she said. "I can't explain it, it's like amazing. It's like being on tour, but with your family. Things are really great now, his spirits are really high. … Things seem to be really catching on."

And she's right. After months of being written off as a candidate, McCain is hot. Again.

A couple of months ago, McCain was sinking. His support for an unpopular war, his sponsorship of an even more unpopular immigration reform bill, his opposition to ethanol subsidies in Iowa and torture everywhere alienated many Republicans.

On the bus, his friend and supporter Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security secretary, recalled the disappointment.

"The campaign had its challenges and certainly there was a low point during the summer. And I went up to see John in his office. … And John was obviously disappointed, unhappy. And then he said to me — typical John McCain — 'You know, I have been through a lot worse in my life.'"

'They Just Didn't Believe Us'

McCain admits, however, that his campaign did make some mistakes, especially when it comes to immigration.

"The immigration issue because of the volatility and the anger and the concern that Americans feel about it," he said. "[They] didn't trust us when we said as part of this solution that we would secure the borders. They just didn't believe us."

But taking unpopular stands may have turned out to be a good strategy for McCain. This weekend, he got two big newspaper endorsements — The Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe — and local political analysts say he's hitting his stride.

"He's finally articulating the message of restoring and changing government," said Jennifer Donahue, senior adviser for political affairs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "That's where he was in 2000. It's taken eight years to get back there, but he is back on message."

'That's the Way You Win in New Hampshire'

And while his message is generally positive, he's not above taking a swipe at Huckabee's foreign-policy credentials.

"To my knowledge Gov. Huckabee has never been to Iraq. I don't think he has ever been to Afghanistan. I know Musharraf. I have been to Waziristan. I know Olmert. I know Maliki. I know these people. I have been involved in these issues for the last 20 years."

Huckabee did make a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005.

At the end of another long campaign day, McCain doesn't seem to be in any hurry. He's still going at it and looking forward to the next day and the next day where he says he will encounter "more of the same."

"Town hall meetings, going to the various establishments, going in and shaking hands talking to people and answering their questions and addressing their issues. That's the way you win in New Hampshire."