ABC News’ Ron Claiborne interviewed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Friday in an interview that ran this a.m. Sunday Good Morning America.
Here’s more from that, in a transcript slightly edited for clarity.
ABC News’ Ron Claiborne: Your spirits seem up.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz: Yeah. You’re bound to be up when you get these kinds of endorsements. Rudy Giuliani, and Governor Schwarzenegger, Jack Kemp, and now we’re going to have a number of endorsements from the real conservative side. So we’re trying to unite the party. I think people are beginning to appreciate that I can do that.
McCain: Aha. What about Curt Schilling?
Claiborne: We last sat down and it was a right before South Carolina and people like me were saying if Senator McCain does not win South Carolina, this could be the beginning of the end. That was two weeks ago. What happened in the last two weeks? You turned things around.
McCain: Well, we won South Carolina as you know and Florida was a big win. And I’ll give you straight talk my friend, (Florida) Governor (Charlie) Crist and (Sen.) Mel Martinez were helpful.
Claiborne: So here’s my sports analogy for where your campaign is at: You have a 14 point lead in the football game, about 6 minutes to go and you have the ball. Is that pretty fair?
McCain: I think that’s a pretty fair analogy but there’s been more than one team with that much time left, that’s lost. But yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ve got momentum on our side and I think we’re headed in the right direction. But the key to it is don’t take anything for granted, keep campaigning hard, keep trying to get these endorsements and support and then try and get this thing over with Tuesday.
Claiborne: Do endorsements count? Do they matter? Do they sway people?
McCain: I think they do in this respect. I think newspapers, and elected officials that people respect, it doesn’t say "I’m going to vote for McCain," but "Hey, if so and so supports him I’m going to have another look at him." I think that’s what it really does
Claiborne: Senator, why does the part of the Republican Right distrust and in some cases dislike you?
McCain: I don’t know exactly, but what I what my job is to try to unite the party. Try to get everybody together. Try to get everybody to realize that we’ve had disagreements on some issues, but I think its common knowledge that we’ve got to have a united party and I think I can unite that party, I really do. And I think with some of the people that support me like Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp and a lot of the more conservative people that endorse me I hope will prove as kind of a catalyst to get us all together.
Claiborne: But some conservatives, apparently, will never accept you.
McCain: Yeah, but I think that most of the conservatives, and a good percentage of them voted for me in Florida in a Republican-only primary — most conservatives are concerned about the threat of radical Islamic extremism — and I think that’s why I appeal to a pretty good segment of them. And the rest of them I hope that by the way I campaign and what I can present as my vision for the future will attract their support.
Claiborne: On the debate let me run some descriptions from newspapers by you. They said that you and Governor Romney "tangled" one paper said, another one said "sparred," another said "angrily fought," and another said "traded barbs." What is it with you two?
McCain: I accept all but the "angrily". You can’t get angry in these things as you know, otherwise then you lose your credibility, it somehow appears as if you’re going to get angry. It was a spirited debate and I understand that Governor Romney may be obviously on the wane here, I think that’s most people’s observation and I think that might have given him a more competitive attitude. It was a spirited debate. It was tough and what we’re doing isn’t being bad. I respect Governor Romney and I, in all candor would rather be where I am now than where he is now.
Claiborne: But are you concerned that some voters will look at the exchanges that you had …and say “Look, there go those politicians squabbling again. This is what I hate about politics.”
McCain: I think you have to worry about that. I see that on the Democrat side obviously between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. But I think the level of debate, almost throughout — we’ve had fifteen debates — was pretty good. Last night was a little contentious, but some of that’s a little understandable when you get really down to the final days.
Claiborne: Very briefly, how does the phrase "timetable" equal "withdraw"? Explain that, because that’s the point you have been making repeatedly against Romney. (One quite disputed.)
McCain: In those days, timetable meant withdraw. That was the buzzword used by the Democrats, used by Republicans who wanted to leave (Iraq). And then he… (talked about) a kind of a secret proposal that said ‘We’re not going to tell the enemy when we are gone.’ Meaning that somehow that meant plans for leaving. It was a defining moment and the buzzword for "withdraw" was quote "timetables". The right answer to that question that he should have said is "No. No timetables. Success." Success is the thing that creates the timetable.
Claiborne: On immigration: the governor of your state, Janet Napolitano — you talked about governors of border states certifying that the borders are secure. She says that can’t be done. That any moment, it’s just a snapshot of the situation. If the governor of Arizona says that it can’t be done, then how can you do this?
McCain: Well you know it’s interesting you mention that because the governor of Texas is endorsing me today. And the governor of Texas invited me to come and look where they have beefed up the borders where the state has really gotten involved. And he says crime has dropped dramatically, the crossings have dropped dramatically, that there’s been significant improvement. Look, if a nation can’t secure its borders, then a government can’t carry out it’s responsibilities to the people because that’s our first obligation. I believe we can. …You’ve watched this debate over many months and you’ve seen the town hall meetings that I’ve been involved in. People want the borders secured first. We’ve got to do that for them. So that we can satisfy their major concern which is national security.
Claiborne: In South Carolina the Republican electorate who took part in the primary was 97 percent white. Different picture in Florida. When you go to the events. Yours, Governor Romney’s, Mayor Giuliani’s. The vast majority of people attending these are not African American, or Asian-American or Latino. Is the Republican party in danger of evolving into, if it hasn’t already, the party of white Americans and not the increasingly diverse America?
McCain: In all due respect I think we are the party of Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. We have had difficulty with the African American vote. I think that’s just a fact of life, and we’ve got to do a better job; things like Governor (Bob) Riley of Alabama is doing in the "Black Belt." And we’ve got to do a lot better job there. I think with the Hispanic voter we were doing very well and now unfortunately we’re seeing a drop in that support. We’ve got to regain it. I got seventy percent of the Hispanic vote in my last re-election and I’m proud of that. So it’s a challenge but perhaps maybe not as big a challenge as the African American vote. But you’re right. Demographics dictate that the Republican party has to be a big tent party. And we’re going to have to attract African American voters and we’re going to have to attract Hispanic voters. Asian voters, and others, and by the way with Asian vote, we’ve even done a little better. But we have a lot of work to do.
Claiborne: Well let me just run very quickly a quote by Jack Kemp who is endorsing you. He said: "We sound like we don’t want immigration; we sound like we don’t want black people to vote for us. What are we going to do — meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?"
McCain: Jack Kemp is one of the most respected members of our party, a former vice presidential candidate and it’s Jack Kemp that can help me with that effort. It’s Jack Kemp who is probably as good on that issue or as respected on the issues by members of the African-American community as anybody. I’ll use Jack Kemp and others to reach out; people again like Governor Riley in Alabama who got a very significant increase in the African American vote in his last re-election because he showed people in the African American community that he cared and he’s willing to work for them. So there’s some people out there that I think can be very helpful.
Claiborne: But as a practical matter, you solidify your base, and the Republican base does not consist of minorities.
McCain: Well I would argue that a lot of the Hispanic vote, Cuban American vote and others, it is a large part of this base. But the name of this game is not only to get votes but to unite this country. We know that there are deep divisions within this country in many ways although we’ve made progress, but uniting this country is the biggest challenge, and there are people who I know can help me as we approach many of these issues. In Arizona we don’t have a very large African-American community, but we have a very large Hispanic community. I have a lot of relations with the Hispanic communities. I’m going to rally Bob Riley, Jack Kemp, many others, many of my African-American friends. And they don’t necessarily have to be Republicans. (Rep.) John Lewis, (D-Georgia,) is one of the most respected men I’ve ever known in my life. Now John Lewis is never going to be a Republican. But I’ve had many conversations with John Lewis as to how we can help all Americans and that’s what I intend to do.