McCain Keeps Home Fires Burning As John McCain's GOP presidential bid continues to struggle, Dan Nowicki, national political reporter for the Arizona Republic, explains the senator's approach to being a long-shot.

McCain Keeps Home Fires Burning

McCain Keeps Home Fires Burning

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As John McCain's GOP presidential bid continues to struggle, Dan Nowicki, national political reporter for the Arizona Republic, explains the senator's approach to being a long-shot.


Did you ever see somebody across the room and you kind of think, hey, nice looking?



BURBANK: And then you get over to where they are and you're, like, no. No way. That was…

STEWART: Not so much.

BURBANK: …my friend James Demut's(ph) dad taught me that's a case good from far, but far from good. And the same thing kind of seems to apply to the presidential candidates sometimes. You know, they show up at these debates in their in nice suits and they got their lines memorized. And we, the national audience, think, hey, pretty impressive. But we have to wonder what do people who really know them up close, what do they think of them? And we're heading to the hometowns of the presidential candidates to find just that thing out.

Throughout the last week, we've been talking about Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama and John Edwards. Today, we're turning your eyes towards Senator John McCain of Arizona. Now, about a year ago, he seemed to have the Republican nomination locked up. Now it looks like he has to win New Hampshire just to have a chance of even being relevant.

Joining us now is Dan Nowicki, national political reporter for the Arizona Republic. He's been on the campaign trail with John McCain for nearly a year.

Hi, Dan.

Mr. DAN NOWICKI (Reporter, Arizona Republic): Hey, folks. Thanks for having me.

BURBANK: Thanks for coming on so early in the a.m. Well, remember those heady days of a year ago? Is it a different feeling now being out on the trail with John McCain? Is there a sense of desperation?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well, a little bit. It's almost - interestingly enough, it's actually - there's a little bit more optimism on the trail than there was a few months ago in July and August when he really bottomed out and looked like - you know, a lot of people are wondering back here in Arizona how long he was keeping to stay in the race.

BURBANK: Because he had, like, no money whatsoever, right?

Mr. NOWICKI: Yeah. He was teetering on bankruptcy. His whole - his top staff advisers have left. He had to lay off dozens of staffers, you know, lower level of staffers. And it really looked like, you know, something had gone terribly wrong. And I think a lot of people in Arizona were kind of counting him out of the national race.

BURBANK: Well, so - I mean, I guess he's plugged up a couple of the major holes in his listing campaign ship. But I don't think anyone would say that he's exactly sailing very well right now. Even so, I mean, is there a sense that they're - that they've - are they about to throw a "Hail Mary" pass on the campaign? I mean, is it getting down to it like that?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well, I think if - New Hampshire is really do or die for McCain. I asked McCain once fairly recently if New Hampshire was going to be his last stand. And he kind of flinched and said, well, I wouldn't characterize it as a last stand. If we don't lose New Hampshire, we can, you know, carry on to South Carolina. But I think most analysts say, hey, if McCain's going to have any chance at all, he's got to win pretty convincingly in New Hampshire.

STEWART: Hey, Dan, how does the senator react to a question like that?

Mr. NOWICKI: I think at this point he's pretty used to questions like that. You know, he's - one thing about his whole national front-running campaign is just falling apart in the summer, he does seem a lot more relaxed. He's not as uptight anymore. I think sort of his attitude is - and this is just, you know, speculation on my part from looking at him up close. I think he's a sort of, hey, if I'm really president, I'm going to be president. But I'm not going - you know, I'm going to just relax and I'm going try to be myself, and what happens happens.

BURBANK: There's something kind of therapeutic to having a really long shot chance. You know, you're not feeling like you're, you know, in the top three and you're messing it up all the time. It's more like if this happens, it's going to happen. But…

Mr. NOWICKI: Yeah. I think he was trying to, like, sell himself early on. And this is kind of what - it was one of the big problems with his campaign as it was originally organized. They were trying to sell McCain as the establishment Republican Party candidate, and that's just not him.

BURBANK: Well, let's talk about Arizona, where your focus is, and, obviously, where John McCain hails from most recently. What do people make of him there? Is he a popular guy?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well, I think his popularity has taken a hit in Arizona this year, partly because of the illegal immigration issue, which has hurt him all around the country. It's also hurt him here in Arizona, particularly with the grassroots sort of activists. Now, in Arizona, immigration is a pretty complicated issue. We saw in 2006 some of the most hard-line Republicans - you guys may remember former Congressman J.D. Hayworth.


Mr. NOWICKI: He got ousted in a very Republican district, and he made illegal immigration his number one issue. Total fire breather on immigration.

So in Arizona, we're on the border. We have up close and personal view of illegal immigration. And I don't think Republicans here might be as, you know, reactionary as they are in other parts of the country. But in any event, there is a big constituency that has kind of turned against McCain. They view him as too liberal on that issue.

BURBANK: I mean, is it - can you presume that if he was still in the race, McCain would definitely take Arizona? I mean, if he managed to get nominated?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well - yeah, I think he would. I think if he got nominated, he would. It's - actually, the most recent polls here in Arizona - our presidential primary is February 5th, and McCain hasn't really done any campaigning here. None of the candidates really have. Mitt Romney's made a few stops here in Arizona. But the most recent polls show a very tight race basically was deadlocked between Giuliani and McCain, which is a little surprising to people. They - like I said, there's not been a lot of campaigning here, but you would think that McCain would, you know, have a sizeable lead in his home state.

BURBANK: It's funny, because last week we did one of these profiles on the New Yorkers' version of Giuliani where lots of…

STEWART: Woo, doggy. I think my headphones are still on fire from that one.

BURBANK: Yeah. It's like, you know, you've got - I mean, it's like when you're at a dinner party and you think, oh, that other person's wife, she's enchanting. And then they're, like, yeah, she's all right. It's like the New Yorkers are a little - some of them were kind of over Giuliani, and yet he's doing well in Arizona and…

Mr. NOWICKI: Right.

BURBANK: …you know, McCain has his national profile. That's one thing.

You've covered him for a while. Is there a side to John McCain sort of good or bad that we, the rest of the country, don't get to see?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well, much has been made in the past of, you know, McCain's temper, and you'll still see stories come out about that. And, you know, I don't - I think he's actually mellowed out considerably over the years. But that's still something he fights with. I think if he got the nomination, you'd see more of those stories coming out again. And the way he addresses that is he goes, yeah, I have a temper, just like everybody. And I'll even agree that it's become a legendary temper. But like most legends, it's been exaggerated.

So, you know, so every so often, you'll see something come out of the woodwork and talk about they've had a run-in with McCain over the years. And certainly, in past years, there's a lot more of that than there is now.

BURBANK: So his stance on immigration has been the thing that's really, do you think, kind of soured certain Arizonans on him? Is there anything else?

Mr. NOWICKI: Well, I mean, it's part of it. When he was reelected in 2004 to his fourth term, he - I think he won 77 percent of the vote.


Mr. NOWICKI: I mean, that's a pretty overwhelming victory.


Mr. NOWICKI: The Democrats basically put up sort of a sacrificial lamb, just kind of a nominal candidate that wasn't one of their heavy hitters. My guess is, you know, if he does - if he runs for a fifth term in 2010, he's probably not going to get a free ride at this time. Our governor, Janet Napolitano, who's a very popular Democrat, a two-term Democrat, she's considered a kind of Democratic frontrunner for the seat, and I think there's even a poll that shows that that would be a pretty tough reelection battle for McCain.

BURBANK: Well, Dan, you've been following this guy, and you've been kind of on the road with him. If he - the longer he stays in the race, the longer you're going to be forced to travel with him. Are you secretly rooting that it's over?

Mr. NOWICKI: No, actually, it's fun. I haven't really started the day to day. In January, I am going to be with him day to day. I, you know, I, you know, follow him around a couple of times a month for the past several months. So…

BURBANK: Let's hope it lasts just long enough that you get to do your travels, but not so long that it becomes torturous.

Mr. NOWICKI: Well…


Mr. NOWICKI: …I appreciate that.

BURBANK: Dan Nowicki, political reporter for the Arizona Republic.

Thanks a lot.

Mr. NOWICKI: Thanks a lot.

STEWART: Yeah. Bundle up for New Hampshire, buddy. It's not like Arizona.

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