John McCain: 'I Haven't Changed'

On board McCain's Straight Talk Express for a second White House run.

ByBY MATT STUART and MARY MARSH

March 26, 2007— -- Sen. John McCain returned to New Hampshire for the second weekend in a row this month, reminiscing about the glory days of 2000 that the senator describes as "some of the happiest moments" of his political career. The question now: Can he reclaim the glow of 2000?

One potential sign of a slowdown in support came when McCain admitted he would fall short of fundraising expectations in advance of the March 31 deadline. "I don't think we've met the goals that we've hoped that we would meet because we started too late," said McCain, claiming a later start than other campaigns after he opened his exploratory committee last December.

McCain elaborated that in regard to fundraising, "We didn't do it exactly right" but also denied "having trouble raising money. [We] just didn't focus on it hard enough and to really get into the fundraising activities that we should of from the beginning."

The most potentially significant roadblock in the Senator's path to the White House is Iraq.

Although he criticized the way the war was prosecuted in the early days, now, with a new general and the influx of U.S. troops, McCain claims progress is being made in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Defiant in his support for the war, McCain repeated the phrase "I'd rather lose a campaign than lose a war" in almost every event and speech.

McCain angrily ripped into the House bill passed last week that set a timeline for withdrawal, calling it the "most shameful that I have seen in the 24 years I have been in Congress," and describing Democrats as "more interested in guided tours of the Capitol building than caring for American military men and women that are on their tours overseas."

McCain's support for the war continues at a time when a February ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 64 percent of Americans did not think the war was worth fighting.

Opposition to the war doesn't seem to stop the crowds from gathering where the senator roams. Traveling in rural northern New Hampshire, the senator marked two days of events -- some were intimate gatherings, but others were large town hall meetings with hundreds of onlookers. The time in between was punctuated by nonstop conversations with reporters and bloggers aboard his "Straight Talk Express."

And McCain retains the same affinity for sharing his opinions as he did in 2000, weighing in on the U.S. attorneys' controversy, stating his concern about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' role in the firings and emphasized the need for the attorney general to appear before Congress and explain what he knew and when he knew it. However, he did not call for Gonzales' resignation.

McCain also said that he was personally embarrassed and ashamed by the Walter Reed scandal. Having visited recuperating servicemen at Walter Reed frequently, as well as for his own rehabilitation, the senator believes he should have noticed the apparent problems. "I'm a frequent visitor there and it's my responsibility to know about it. … And I think that it may appropriately make people think a little less of me," said McCain.

Finally, and perhaps most notably, McCain expressed frustration at comments regarding his character and allegations that he has somehow changed since running for president in 2000. "I haven't changed, you can't … come to New Hampshire and see these people and put on a new face, it doesn't work," he said.

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