Story Highlights• Sen. John McCain begins bus tour of Iowa, New Hampshire
• Arizona Republican hopes to reignite enthusiasm of 2000 presidential campaign
• 20-year Senate veteran trailing Rudy Giuliani by double digits in latest polls
From Candy Crowley
CNN Washington Bureau
Adjust font size:
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- The bus is back.
Sen. John McCain has revived the "Straight Talk Express," the campaign conveyance made famous in his 2000 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, for his new run. The Arizona lawmaker was back on board Thursday afternoon, hitting town-hall meetings in Iowa, the scene of the first caucuses of the 2008 GOP campaign.
"I'm still the same candidate I was -- little bit older, but still the same candidate," he said. "We're still having fun. We're still on the bus, still having the town hall meetings in the same way that we were before, and I'm convinced we're doing fine."
McCain is trying to reclaim the maverick mantle he wore seven years ago, when he upset then-front-runner George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary -- and largely ignored Iowa, where his opposition to ethanol subsidies was a liability in a corn-belt state.
But the 20-year Senate veteran has spent most of the intervening years veering back toward the Republican mainstream. He is one of the most outspoken defenders of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, now widely unpopular, and has courted religious conservatives whose leaders he once savaged as "agents of intolerance."
Today, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- a supporter of abortion rights, gun control and domestic partnership laws for same-sex couples -- looks like the outsider. But buoyed by his response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center, Giuliani has opened up a double-digit lead over McCain in the GOP presidential field. (Poll: Giuliani leads GOP pack)
Of course, the votes won't be counted in Iowa for 10 months. And though his full-throated support for the war may hurt, his strategists say McCain's background as a former Navy flier and prisoner of war in Vietnam, plus his expertise as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will help him.
"The transcendent issue of this campaign will be this conflict we are in between good and evil, between the forces of radical Islam and extremists that are trying to destroy America and everything we believe in," he told reporters in Des Moines. "I'm qualified. I know the face of war. I know the face of evil. I will win. We will win."
Sen. John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" will have a bevy of media in tow as it travels around Iowa and then to New Hamphire this weekend.