Maverick to Candidate: Evolution of the New John McCain

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan organization, McCain's economic pledges would cost between $524 billion and $563 billion by 2013, and Obama's economic proposals would result in an estimated deficit exceeding $300 billion by the same year.

The old John McCain supported a moratorium on offshore drilling. The new John McCain -- with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at his side -- is all about drill, baby, drill.

John McCain on the Campaign Trail

And it's more than substance that's changed in McCain. It's the tone and style of his campaign.

Remember the "Straight Talk Express"? That was the old John McCain's rolling, roiling, nonstop, no-holds-barred news conference, held constantly aboard his campaign bus or plane. McCain was proud of his willingness to take every question reporters could throw at him; he reveled in the give-and-take. He pledged that's the way he'd always campaign.

And in these sessions, McCain often startled reporters by his willingness to criticize himself, to take responsibility for what he frankly admitted were mistakes.

For instance, I asked him aboard his bus last year how he felt about the scandal in the treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. "Ashamed," he said. "I should have known … and voters might fairly think a little less of me for it."

But that was then. Now, McCain diligently avoids the reporters who cover him. Gone are the rolling news conferences; gone is that startling frankness. McCain has not held a news conference since Aug. 13. Traveling with him, many reporters simply never see him from any distance closer than 100 feet or more, and the press is penned in from the podium during his public events. Earlier this year, when McCain outfitted his campaign plane for the general election, there were special facilities put in for his news conferences. They have been used once.

And McCain is a lot more scripted these days, too. During the last couple of days, he's taken questions from voters in "town hall meetings," but those were his first unscripted encounters with voters since Aug. 20. More and more now, McCain is on script, reading from a teleprompter.

The New Script

And that script is part of the new McCain, too. It's tougher -- even nastier -- than the kind of campaigns the old McCain ran. Back in 2000, McCain actually apologized for betraying his own principles when he did not denounce the flying of the Confederate battle flag over South Carolina's state capitol building. "I chose to compromise my principles," he said. "I broke my promise to always tell the truth."

During that campaign, McCain also, famously, blasted the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson and others as "agents of intolerance" who engaged in "tactics of division and slander." He would not stoke the culture war.

Now, McCain has embraced the religious conservatives he once rejected, and plays the culture war for all its worth. His pick of Palin for vice president sealed his alliance with the same wing of his party he once scorned. And several of his ads -- especially one in which he accused Obama of advocating a sex education measure that would have kindergartners "learning about sex before learning to read," an ad described by the nonpartisan Factcheck.org as "simply false" and excoriated by many media organizations -- and other attacks show McCain is willing to embrace tactics he once rejected.

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