MCCAIN: I'm sure that I'm not. I'm sure that there is a base of our party which is, I wouldn't say further to the right, as much as I would say have different priorities than I do. I am a strong, fiscal conservative. I think that the pork barrel spending practices in Congress are obscene. And I think we're wrecking our children's futures. Now, I think that most Republicans, at the grass-roots level, agree with me. And don't agree with my colleagues in Congress that engage in those practices.
JENNINGS: You're popular with independents and Democrats. You come from an important state. You want to be the president of the United States; you've made that perfectly clear by running in 2000. And [you] might have had a better shot if George Bush's method of campaigning against you had not knocked you off the rails. In order to succeed you have to be popular with Republicans.
MCCAIN: The only reason why I'm as popular as I am [is] because people believe that I do what I think is right, even if there's great political risk. If I lose that, and I will admit to you that I risk that literally every day I make some decision, then I will lose my effectiveness. My goal in life is to be able to affect the formulation of public policy, and do what I can to preserve the security of this country. If I succeed then, the popularity follows. Not the popularity before it. And if I am wrong, if I make a mistake, then I pay a penalty for it. But I've found that politicians who seek popularity first, and then take positions, usually get found out sooner or later.
JENNINGS: So I'm bound to ask you, are you at the very least open? Are you at the very least open to running for the presidency again?
MCCAIN: I would have to say I'm not closed. But first of all, I've got to focus on reelection. Second, it would be foolish. You don't know who the president of the United States is [going to be], although I believe it's going to be President Bush. Third of all, I'm 68 years old today.
JENNINGS: You would indeed be older than [former President] Ronald Reagan [was when he was elected] if you ran again.
MCCAIN: Yeah. I think that's a consideration of my health. But again, I think there's a time and a place for everything in politics. And for me, at this time, to speculate even openly, or even mentally, about running for president of the United States when I haven't been even reelected to the Senate, is a waste of my time.
JENNINGS: I simply asked whether or not you are open to the idea.
MCCAIN: I am open to the idea, if I am reelected, and depending on circumstances. But not until.
JENNINGS: Do you think Kerry has made a serious miscalculation by making his Vietnam experience as big a deal as he has?
MCCAIN: I believe that it was probably a mistake to emphasize it as much as he did. I believe the reason why he did, so that they could inoculate themselves against the "Dukakis in the tank" routine. And perhaps they overplayed their hand. But it's awful easy for me to sit on the sidelines. In South Carolina, which you referred to, I way overreacted. Way overreacted to the things that were said about me. So I'm sure no expert on how to do it right.
JENNINGS: Is [Kerry] not strong enough to be president?
MCCAIN: I think he's strong enough to be president. I just believe that President Bush has already proven his leadership by his conduct of himself and leadership of this country after Sept. 11th.