MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Today in Columbus, Republican presidential candidate John McCain summed up his goals for the first term in the White House. A key year in his vision: 2013.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq war has been won.
NORRIS: That speech was part of an effort by Senator McCain to clarify his position on Iraq and how long he thinks the US should remain there. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have promised a faster withdrawal of US troops. NPR's Scott Horsley has been following McCain, and he joins us now. Scott, this is the first time John McCain has talked at length about Iraq in a few weeks. Tell us more about what he was saying.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, that's right. He's been focused more recently on domestic issues, but he continues to be dogged by comments he made at a town hall meeting back in January when he said he would be fine with keeping US troops in Iraq for a hundred years. He has since said he means a peacetime presence in Iraq, like we have US troops in Germany or Korea. But today, he was able to say very clearly that he expects direct combat to be over in Iraq before the end of the next presidential term, and that by 2013, Iraqi security forces will be in control. This was part of a larger speech, where he was spelling out his goals for a first term in office. In addition to Iraq, he talked about having a better economy, new trade deals, improved access to healthcare. He said I want to leave office knowing that America is safer, freer and wealthier than when I was elected.
NORRIS: Now you say he was laying out his goals for a first term in office. Often, candidates speak is if they get there, they plan to stay for at least two terms. Is he suggesting that he would leave office at the end of one term?
HORSLEY: Well, he said - he did say first term, which I guess implies that there might be second. But he said he would govern as if he were a one-term president. He said I won't spend one hour worrying more about my reelection than about keeping my promises to the American people.
Sen. McCAIN: There's a time to campaign and a time to govern. If I'm elected president, the era of the permanent campaign will end. The era of problem solving will begin.
HORSLEY: And Senator McCain repeated his promise to run a respectful campaign this year. He said while he argues with the Democrats, it should be an argument among friends. And as you said, he was speaking in Columbus, Ohio, where that - that will be a key setting for that friendly argument.
NORRIS: Now this week, Senator McCain seems to be shifting all over the place in terms of the issues, West and East, talking about environmentalism, now Iraq. What kind of voters were at this speech, and who was the speech aimed at? Was he trying to talk to independents? Hardcore Republicans? Or somewhere in between those two things?
HORSLEY: There was something in here for everyone, really. He repeated the pledge he made last week on judges. To follow the example of President Bush, he said by the end of his first term, he expects to have scores of conservative judges on the bench. That was some red meat for the right wing. But he also promised to reach out to congressional Democrats in shaping policy if he's elected president. And he said he would not, quote, "Subvert the purpose of legislation with signing statements." So that was a very clear way for Senator McCain to distance himself from President Bush.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, talking about John McCain. Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.