McCain Jokes With Leno in First Appearance Since Loss

A week after their failed bid for the White House, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin continue to be the GOP's odd couple.

Palin has been on an interview-a-day media whirlwind, calling her critics "jerks" and looking ahead to 2012.

In her bluntest language yet, Palin told Wolf Blitzer on CNN today that she might be a candidate for president in 2012.

"Not ruling that out," Palin said.

She also made it clear she may be interested in becoming a senator from Alaska if Sen. Ted Stevens, recently convicted of corruption, is forced to quit.

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"If something shifted dramatically and if it were, if it were acknowledged up there that I could be put to better use for my state in the U.S. Senate, I would certainly consider that," she told CNN.

McCain, meanwhile, emerged on "The Tonight Show" Tuesday to poke fun at himself and say kind things about Palin and the man who beat him, President-elect Barack Obama.

Like any good veteran of the late-night shows -- McCain has been on Jay Leno's show 14 times -- he relied on punch lines that have been honed with time.

"I've been sleeping like a baby," McCain told Leno about the aftermath of his Election Day disappointment. "Sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry."

When asked about the scene when he drove away from his campaign for the last time, McCain said he went to buy a coffee. "But not the newspaper. I knew what that was going to say."

The defeated presidential contender even filmed a short skit with Leno, telling the host that he would be working on the transition team ... for Conan O'Brien, the "Late Night" host who is scheduled to take over Leno's job next year.

While Palin has complained bitterly about the press coverage of the campaign, McCain said he had no beef with the media.

"We're big guys, we're supposed to be able to take this kind of stuff, you know?" he said. "The one thing I think Americans don't want is a sore loser."

McCain Looks Back, Palin Forward

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said the contrast in the reaction between the two former candidates reflects that they are at "very different points in their lives and experienced very different things."

"He's a 72-year-old man looking back as much as looking forward. He's been under fire in many ways for many, many years," Rothenberg said.

"She's, in terms of national politics, is a novice. I'm sure she's never been beaten up as much as she's been beaten up in the last three months," he said.

McCain, a Vietnam War hero, got an extended Veterans Day reception from the "Tonight Show" audience even before he started cracking wise.

But he dismissed a suggestion by Leno that he might run again in four years, when he would be 76.

"I wouldn't think so," McCain said with a hint of resignation in his voice. "We are going to have another generation of leaders come along."

One of those new leaders may be Palin, who today was featured in an exclusive interview for a fourth straight day. She has called anonymous critics from the McCain camp "jerks" and "cowards" for criticizing her for a reported shopping spree, not knowing geography and current events and going "rogue" with her own message during the campaign.

Palin has denied she spent an exorbitant amount of money on clothes and denied stories that mocked her, like the one claiming she didn't know Africa was a continent

Palin Has More Appearances Scheduled

McCain, however, defended Palin to Leno.

"Did you expect mavericks to stay on message?" he said with a nervous chuckle, adding that he was "proud" of Palin.

The man who lost his second bid for the presidency had kind words for Obama as well.

"I salute, as you know, and admire and respect the winner, Sen.-President-elect Barack Obama," he said.

McCain said he would return to the Senate and "continue to serve. That's been my life."

McCain has no other interviews scheduled, but he is hitting the campaign trail again this week, stumping for Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who is in a run-off against Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

Palin, however, is still discussing the presidential campaign. She has another interview scheduled today with CNN, and on Thursday she will hold a news conference in Miami before being a featured speaker at a Republican Governors Association gathering there.

Palin has described the campaign as "brutal," scoffed at media coverage of her, admitted she sometimes went off message and reportedly tried to give her own concession speech on the night that McCain had to admit defeat.

She has suggested that she may run again four years from now.

"If there is an open door in '12 or four years later and it's something that's going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door," she told Fox News this week.

Torie Clarke, a veteran of the Bush administration and a political analyst for ABC News, said that there are many Republicans who weren't laughing at McCain's jokes and feel that it was Palin who has been a good sport.

"There are plenty of people in the Republican Party who are angry at John McCain for mishandling Palin and then trashing her at the end," Clarke told ABCNews.com.

The leaks about Palin began slipping out in the waning days of the losing GOP campaign, complaining she was "going rogue."

"Most people who watched the last weeks of that campaign think she was an incredibly good sport to put up with that stuff," Clarke said.

Palin sounded concerned about Obama as the nation's next commander in chief.

"Well, you know, we've got make sure there too that Barack Obama surrounds himself with strong commanders who understand that our boys, our girls, with their boots on the ground -- their lives, my son's life, is in his hands," she said on CNN.

Palin's oldest son, Track, is serving in Iraq.

She hasn't given up on her campaign charge that Obama had "palled around" with a terrorist, citing Obama's acquaintance with 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

"I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers. And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up, to destroy our Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol. That's an association that still bothers me," Palin told CNN.