McCain Predicts 'Very Close Race' Against Obama, Casts Self as Underdog

John McCain thinks he's the underdog in the race for the White House against Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

"I'm surprised, frankly, to see the polls as close as they are, given our brand problems in the Republican Party. I'm pleased where we are," Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee, told ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson in an interview airing Thursday on "World News."

McCain told Gibson he sees "energizing independents and Reagan Democrats" as his biggest obstacle in the race, telling ABC News, "We're going to be in kind of a presidential campaign where the independents, Reagan Democrats, would be the reason why I win."

"I think we have unified the party pretty well, but I've got to assure everyone that I'm going to be the president of all Americans. That's what they have to have confidence in; that's what they want now."

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WATCH CHARLIE GIBSON'S INTERVIEW WITH JOHN MCCAIN ON "WORLD NEWS" AT 6:30 ET ON ABC

McCain said he called both Sens. Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to congratulate them on their respective primary campaigns but said it was "pretty apparent there for a while that it was going to be Senator Obama."

The GOP contender told Gibson he didn't have a preference in his general election opponent.

"Either one would have been very challenging. And Senator Obama will — I'm sure that we'll have a very close race," McCain said.

But does a McCain-Obama campaign look different than a McCain-Clinton match-up?

"I don't think so," McCain told ABC News. "I think — maybe some of the states change a little bit, but, overall, I think it's going to be fundamentally differences in positions, principles, views, policies, and both foreign and domestic … because they're very similar, I don't think that the debate would have been significantly different."

McCain said he "hadn't thought that much about [an Obama-Clinton ticket]" but acknowledged "obviously it would be a formidable ticket."

"But," he added, "I also think there's a lot of people out there that could make it a formidable ticket, as well. And I know that a lot of times, too, we place emphasis on the running mate and, at the end of the day, it's the top of the ticket that most Americans make their selection from."

Running Against History

McCain, who will be 72 at the time of next year's inauguration, would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term, while Obama, who will be 47 when the next president takes the oath of office, would be one of the youngest.

And, of course, Obama has already made history as the first African-American to claim a major political party's nomination.

But McCain hopes the general election will center neither on race nor age.

"I believe in the decency and fairness of the American people," McCain said. "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be seeking to lead them. I think they're the finest, fairest, most decent people in the world."

"And, of course, we have extremes in our society that do things which are not in keeping with the principles and, frankly, the greatness of this nation. But, overall, a vast majority of Americans are fair, decent people, and they're going to judge who they want to lead on the basis of how they think that person can lead."

McCain called Obama's nomination win a "remarkable thing," noting they both "started as long shots." But McCain told Gibson he is not surprised to see an African-American at the top of a presidential ticket.

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