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Straight Talk With John McCain

He is back, telling voters he is the right man for the job at the right time in our nation's history. But will conservatives, especially evangelicals, line up behind him?



MANCHESTER, N.H. -- U.S. Senator John McCain is trying again to become President McCain. He gave President Bush a good run for the nomination in 2000, but ultimately lost. Now he is back, telling voters he is the right man for the job at the right time in our nation's history. But will conservatives, especially evangelicals, line up behind him? CBN reporter David Brody traveled with him this weekend through New Hampshire aboard his Straight Talk Express bus. If you didn't know any better, you would think this was the 2000 presidential race. Here is John McCain, smiling in New Hampshire, the scene of one of his biggest political triumphs. But times have changed. First, the events of September 11, 2001. Then the Iraq War. Now McCain, the former P.O.W., comes back here trailing front runner Rudy Giuliani in most polls and defending President Bush in an unpopular war. CBN News rode along with him on his Straight Talk Express bus. "I can't let my belief in this surge, in this new strategy impact any of my political calculations," McCain said. McCain's challenge is to rekindle the magic, bringing back the Straight Talk Express is part of the strategy. He was the "it" candidate in 2000, a freewheeling maverick. But seven years later means seven more years in the Senate. And that carries a new label: government insider. Independents like his authenticity, but they criticize him. They think he sounds just like the president, especially on the war. "If we leave, I am convinced that there will be chaos," McCain told the audience at a local town hall meeting. Adding to the war's challenge is a conservative backlash. Some of his positions like providing citizenship to illegals, opposing Bush's tax cuts and maybe, most of all, pushing campaign finance reform are not popular within conservative ranks. "They didn't like it, and I'm going to give you some straight talk, because it deprived them of some money," McCain told CBN News. "And I understand that it harmed their ability to carry out their agenda." For some evangelicals, that's just one of the problems they have with a McCain candidacy. Their list also includes his support for embryonic stem cell research. McCain is against gay marriage, but he opposes a federal marriage amendment. He says his position is the conservative one. Leave it up to the states. Then there's the pro-life issue. McCain's voting record could be considered reliable, but even he admits he has not made a pro-life stance one of his signature issues. "A little straight talk, I think there may be some legitimacy to that discussion," he said. In an effort to address that, he recently said Roe v. Wade should be overturned. He has also made overtures to evangelicals, including meetings with leaders like Richard Land, John Hagee and befriending Jerry Falwell, who he once called an "agent of intolerance." As for Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, he says that meeting does not appear likely. "I have not had a conversation with Dr. Dobson, because he has said that he prays that I will not be the nominee of the party," McCain said. "I'm not sure where we start the conversation." McCain understands there may be some doubts, but he also knows he needs evangelicals to help him out at the ballot box. CBN News asked the senator, "Do you need evangelicals to win in 2008? "Oh sure," he replied. "I hope I would be given an assessment that would ignore some of the things that may give them some preconceived notion and would just give me an honest and fair assessment and most will." In the end, that's all McCain wants. An honest look at his record. A record that his handlers say is very conservative. He is a hawk on foreign policy, who votes for strict constructionist judges and fights for fiscal restraint. "I'm happy to present that record and my vision to conservatives, to moderates, to liberals," he said. Meanwhile, McCain soldiers on. He is hoping his name recognition, concentrated effort in early primary states and of course, the Straight Talk Express will make the difference for him. The big question? Will his straight talk on the war and other issues drive him to the White House or will they create pot holes that leave him on the side of the road?


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