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CNN PRESENTS

McCain Revealed

Aired August 20, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

When Americans vote for a president, they care as much about the personal qualities and leadership abilities of the candidates as they do about their issues. Their personalities matter as much as their positions.

KING: Tonight, we bring you two very special programs, the life stories of the two men who would be president, Senator Barack Obama, the first African-American nominee by any major political party, and Senator John McCain, the famous war hero and POW.

Both men are as defined by their life stories as any candidates in history.

We begin with John McCain revealed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The lush grassy hills of central Mississippi, cotton country.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Generations of Americans were born and raised in Carroll County on land that had been in our family since 1848.

KING: The McCains of Carrollton, traced ancestors back to the revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since their family has been in this country, they have been soldiers, warriors, military.

KING: Eighty-year-old Wessy Gee (ph) grew up near the McCain plantation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're that sort of people, never shying away from their responsibility.

KING: That sense of obligation and service would be both a birthright and a burden to John Sidney McCain III, the namesake of two Navy admirals. His life began August 29, 1936, on the Naval base his grandfather commanded in the Panama Canal Zone.

From day one, his path seemed inevitable, his youth shaped by the competing pressures of duty and desire. RIVES RICHEY, HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE: He was kind of a tough guy.

KING: Rives Richey met John McCain in the fall of 1951, when McCain first arrived at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

(on camera): You still see the eyes and the smile.

RICHEY: Yes. Yes, definitely John.

KING (voice-over): Then an all-male boarding school. They became close friends.

(on camera): If you look back at what he has written or others have written, you see things like "McNasty," "Punk."

RICHEY: Yes.

KING: Where do the names come from?

RICHEY: Yes. There were some very, very unflattering nicknames at Episcopal.

KING: For everybody?

RICHEY: For everybody. He had guys that he didn't get along with well and he didn't really make any bones about it.

KING (voice-over): McCain racked up demerits at a near record pace, testing every rule, slacking on his studies.

MCCAIN: I think I was just a rebellious young man.

KING: McCain looked back on those days with a mix of nostalgia and chagrin.

MCCAIN: Maybe part of it was the transience of the life of my family moving from one place to another constantly really in those days.

KING: He delighted in his rebel, don't-back-down image.

RICHEY: John is the kind of guy that, if you were going through the wrong part of Washington, he would be the guy to have at your side.

He was a very good wrestler.

KING: Episcopal was defined by athletics. It was here at the gym, Richey says, the tenacity that often got his friend back in trouble became his greatest asset, especially given his size, just 121 pounds.

RICHEY: He definitely had a lot of will. You had to beat him. We were wrestling six-minute matches and you couldn't quit after five minutes. You had to go the whole way with him. MCCAIN: Well, I was very competitive. I don't think there's any doubt about that. You know, I think, sometimes, that level of self- confidence masks a little bit of insecurity as well, you know, in striving to do well, to prove myself all the time.

KING: His next proving ground was one chosen for him, Annapolis. Duty eclipsed desire. The military legacy of his father and grandfather trumped McCain's huge love of literature and his dream of a liberal arts education at Princeton or the University of Virginia.

MCCAIN: I think I knew that I was going to go to the Naval Academy. And I'm sure that part of my excuse for being rebellious was that I wanted to go to one of those schools. By the way, it's by no means certain I could have gotten in.

(LAUGHTER)

CHUCK LARSON, NAVAL ACADEMY FRIEND OF JOHN MCCAIN: He accepted it, although he rebelled occasionally.

KING: Chuck Larson met fellow midshipman John McCain in 1955. Everyone knew both McCain's family lineage and his bad boy reputation. Larson and McCain hit it off. The bad bunch was born.

LARSON: A group that liked to have fun. And, of course, we were always looking for dates. Women were very attracted to John.

FRANK GAMBOA, NAVAL ACADEMY ROOMMATE OF JOHN MCCAIN: Socially, it was very wise to hang out with John because he got invited to a lot of parties.

KING (voice-over): Frank Gamboa was John McCain's roommate at Annapolis. Gamboa remembers his first encounter with his roommate's father, highly decorated naval captain, the fall of 1955.

GAMBOA: John had gotten up and gone over to the sink and got a glass full of water, and threw it on us. So, that deteriorated into melee water fight. While we were in the midst of this, there came two knocks on the door. So we come to attention. Then I see John say, "Dad!"

MCCAIN: That was my dad. He walked in the room.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: It was -- it was a shocking moment for him.

GAMBOA: And then I hear this rough voice behind me: "This is a gross room. Carry on, gentlemen."

MCCAIN: My father was amazingly tolerant of some of my wild antics at the Naval Academy.

GAMBOA: And the captain said, "God damn it, Johnny, no wonder you're flunking." MCCAIN: I think he -- he had an abiding faith that, if I got through it, that, over time, I would take up the mantle of responsibility and duty and honor and country.

LARSON: When people would come to him and start saying, I knew your father, I know your -- I knew your grandfather, I know your father, you're not measuring up, he really resented that -- that sort of thing. And I think that made him tend to rebel sometimes.

KING: He could be rebellious, cocky, rough. And then Frank Gamboa, one of the first Mexican-Americans to attend the academy, came to learn there was more to John McCain.

GAMBOA: So, he came over, and he put his arm around me. He said, "Look, I apologize for riding you sometimes and calling you the Mex -- because my nickname in the company was the Mex. Everybody had a nickname. His was John Wayne McCain.

He says: "You know I don't mean any harm. He said, I want you to be able to take it when you get out in the fleet, because you might not be treated the way you are here."

It was so touching that he would be concerned about how I was going to be treated after we left Annapolis. I have never told anybody about this.

KING: A rare glimpse at a softer side, often masked by the combative nature that would define John McCain long after his days at Annapolis.

When we return: a war hero who withstood torture, the politician who marched to his own drummer, and the man sometimes at war with himself.

Coming up next: John McCain's first brush with death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It was 1958. John McCain graduated Annapolis in the bottom five of his class...

STUDENTS: Hip hip hooray!

KING: ... yet at the top of his game.

MCCAIN: I was going to be a naval aviator. And that's what I always wanted to do. And I wanted to fly airplanes by myself, off of aircraft carriers. I thought that was the height of glamour and excitement.

KING: Aviator training was rigorous. Yet McCain loved happy hour and nightlife. His old Annapolis pal, now flight school roommate Chuck Larson, says McCain still preferred literature to required reading.

LARSON: John spent a lot of time reading. And he read "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon.

KING (on camera): At the expense of maybe learning how to eject?

MCCAIN: Yes, yes, at the expense of maybe learning my flight procedures, which I probably should have given a higher priority to.

KING (voice-over): Both men were on a training mission in 1958 when McCain nearly paid the ultimate price for doing things his way.

LARSON: He took off one plane ahead of me. He had an engine failure and crashed into the bay. And he sunk to the bottom. He was sitting on the bottom of the aircraft. And he said, you know, I remember there's some kind of a switch here somewhere that blows the canopy off the airplane, but I didn't read that book, and I don't know where the switch is. So, I guess I'm dead.

KING: McCain managed to wrench the canopy open and barely survived.

(on camera): Near-death experience, how do you think that changed him, if at all?

LARSON: I don't think it changed him at all. John went back to the room, went to bed for about two hours, got up, and said, let's go over to the club.

KING (voice-over): The '50s gave way to the '60s.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strong, we shall stay free.

KING: Eisenhower...

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ich bin ein Berliner.

KING: ... to Kennedy, and, for John McCain, a swashbuckling single life to marriage. Her name was Carol Shepp, a striking swimsuit model.

LARSON: They had a wonderful relationship, very warm family. He had adapted her children by her first marriage. They had Sidney, their daughter. And I found -- I found him to be a very -- a very loving father and them to be a very close family.

KING: Vietnam brought more dramatic change, the protesters, the believers...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The confrontation dramatizes the deep split within the conscience of the country.

KING: ... and the first combat mission of then Lieutenant Commander John McCain. His carrier was the USS Forrestal. And on July 29, 1967, preparing for a bombing run over Vietnam, another close encounter with death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The worst disaster to strike a U.S. Navy ship since World War II.

KING: A missile from a plane on the carrier's deck accidentally fired, striking McCain's fuel tank and sparking a deadly inferno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flames raced from plane to plane, fed by bombs, rockets, and bullets.

KING: Twenty-one planes were destroyed, more than 130 men killed. But John McCain was somehow among the 161 men who survived.

MCCAIN: I walked out on the refueling probe and jumped off of the refueling probe and rolled through the fire.

KING: The circle in this rare footage is McCain escaping.

MCCAIN: It was terrible. You know, I was so fortunate to get out of it. And then I saw all those other people literally sacrificing their lives to fight the fire and save the ship.

There were these individuals lying there terribly burned. One of the individuals said -- another pilot said, "He didn't make it, did he?" And I said, "No, he made it. He's fine." He said, "Thank God," and he died.

And, you know, those -- those kinds of, you know, of sacrifice are really remarkable.

KING: Because of his injuries, he was given the option of being reassigned out of the war zone. Instead, McCain volunteered to fly off another carrier that was short on pilots.

McCain reported to the USS Oriskany -- 52 of its planes had already been lost over Vietnam. A few weeks later, on October 26, 1967, McCain was assigned his target. He recalls the operation officer's warning: "You better be careful. We're probably going to lose someone on this one."

McCain's response? "You don't have to worry about me."

When we come back, stories you have never heard before about McCain's life-and-death experience in Vietnam.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): At age 31, John McCain had bent just about every rule, cheated death at least twice. But, on a late October morning in 1967, flying low in the skies over Hanoi, his luck ran out.

MCCAIN: I just started to pull out and got hit by a surface-to- air missile. So, I was gyrating very violently almost straight down, knocked unconscious when I ejected. And when I hit the water, I woke up.

I have seen pictures, a large group of them towing me in. And then there was an even larger group awaiting me on the bank of very angry citizenry.

KING (on camera): Talk about that moment. Bayonets, beating?

MCCAIN: Mm-hmm. Yes, they were -- it was very tough. I was kind of dazed because of what had happened to me. But I was certainly aware that -- and certainly when they inflicted pain. So, I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Everybody in the village was here for a chance to see the American pilot.

KING (voice-over): Nueng Ban-don (ph) was just shy of 18 at the time. He saw the parachute open, as he swam across to help push McCain ashore and strip off his flight suit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We knew he was still alive. We could see his heart palpitating. And we knew he wouldn't die.

KING: Prison first, then, a few days later, a hospital where doctors attended to his badly broken leg, arms, and other injuries.

MCCAIN: Lieutenant Commander John McCain.

KING: McCain reluctantly consented to an interview. He was told it was the only way he would get surgery and the only way to speak to his family.

MCCAIN: I would just like to tell my -- my wife I will get well, and I love her, and hope to see her soon. And I would appreciate if you would tell her that. That's all.

KING: He appeared fearful, even drugged. But the signature McCain humor came through when a French reporter asked him about the prison food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is your food?

MCCAIN: It's not like Paris.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: But I eat it.

KING: That interview was played on CBS News. Soon, McCain became the famous POW.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS: The younger McCain apparently suffered severe leg and arm injuries when...

KING: The story often topped U.S. newscasts, the son of one of the highest ranking Naval commanders, the father of a young daughter...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sidney McCain, age 4, is...

KING: ... and two adopted sons who barely knew him, the husband of a fearful woman.

CAROL MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: He's worried that I might forget or something. And that bothers me. It makes me feel very badly. There isn't any way I could possibly forget.

KING: For Carol McCain, an anxious wait stateside, for John McCain, a defining moment.

In May 1968, his father, Admiral Jack McCain, was named commander of U.S. Forces Pacific. As Admiral McCain took the new command, the Vietnamese offered John McCain freedom. He was tempted, but came to believe it was a propaganda ploy to embarrass his father and anger other prisoners. He said no. The POW's code of conduct called for release in the order of capture. There were dozens head of McCain, men taken prisoner as much as three years before him.

And that earned John McCain more respect from his comrades, but the wrath of his captors.

MCCAIN: Because, after it was clear to the North Vietnamese that I would not do that, then the treatment got very much worse.

KING (on camera): It's hard to imagine five days, let alone the 5-and-a-half years John McCain spent in cells like this one here and at other North Vietnamese prisons. He suffered from heat prostration and bouts of dysentery. And then there was the torture.

The North Vietnamese considered their American prisoners to be criminals. And the punishment included beatings, also hanging the inmates from the ceilings by their wrists, and solitary confinement. McCain spent long stretches in solitary, during which he says his only way to communicate with the outside world was to use a code developed by the prisoners, and to tap on the wall.

ERNIE BRACE, FELLOW PRISONER OF JOHN MCCAIN: I would tap back as best I could at that point.

KING (voice-over): In the fall of 1968, POW Ernie Brace heard from his new neighbor in solitary confinement.

BRACE: He said, "My name is John McCain, Lieutenant Commander John McCain, U.S. Navy."

MCCAIN: Well, I will never forget the first time I talked to him, and he just kept saying: "My name is Ernie Brace. My name is Ernie Brace."

BRACE: It was pretty exciting. I was a little emotional, probably. I can remember tears in my eyes, thinking about it.

MCCAIN: It was incredible, what -- the experience that Ernie went through. He's a remarkable man, great man.

KING: It was not long after the lowest moment of McCain's captivity. McCain recalls being beaten by as many as 10 guards at a time, tortured with ropes, and given little water.

After four days, he broke, signing a statement confessing to performing the deeds of an air pirate and expressing gratitude for being saved by the Vietnamese people.

(on camera): Did you let down yourself, your father, your family, your country, your cell mates?

MCCAIN: Everybody, but mostly me. Mostly me.

KING: How so?

(CROSSTALK)

BRACE: Because of the standards that I set for myself.

KING: At the time, when you were writing those words, what were you thinking?

BRACE: I was obviously in very desperate physical shape.

KING (voice-over): McCain says he was suicidal, but his comrades rallied his spirits.

MCCAIN: It was our policy in the prison camps that, even if they may get something from you, you always go back into the fight, that you always come back. And that was -- that was very encouraging.

BRACE: He was defiant, very defiant. His whole attitude was defiance.

KING: That defiance, or tenacity, would help John McCain survive.

When we come back, a cease-fire in the war, and POW McCain returns home to a country that had changed dramatically.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): March 14th, 1973.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Sydney McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rare footage. The moment prisoner of war John McCain limped to freedom.

MCCAIN: Of course, we were very happy. Of course, we were overjoyed. But we didn't want to betray a great deal of emotion.

KING: 5 1/2 years of beatings, torture and isolation were over. A difficult physical, cultural and personal transition was just beginning.

MCCAIN: When we got to the Philippines, it was funny because I wanted some good food obviously. But I wanted to read. I wanted to know what happened while I was gone.

I'd read. My eyes are -- go to sleep. Wake up, read some more, go to sleep. It was -- it was really remarkable. So many things had happened.

KING: He had missed so many defining moments. The civil rights riots. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. The moon landing.

NEIL ARMSTRONG, APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT: It's one small step for man --

KING: The Watergate break-in. The depth of anti-war sentiment back home stung.

MCCAIN: I was really disappointed at the treatment of some of the men and women in the military.

KING: John McCain was mad at the contempt for returning veterans. And mad at political leaders he believed sent him off to war without a clear plan to win. This would become his obsession and his next assignment.

MCCAIN: I was fortunate enough to go to the National War College. It was a time to reflect, time to study, time to study about the Vietnam War.

KING: Attending the war college was a plum assignment.

SENATOR JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: You could see the spirit in that man. The spirit wasn't broken.

KING: Then Secretary of the Navy John Warner, a close family friend, pulled strings to get John McCain in.

(on camera): There was talk that he did not meet the traditional credentials --

WARNER: Oh, come on. That didn't phase me a bit. I was delighted to do it. I did some things for some of the other POWs.

KING (voice-over): To this day, McCain says it was his time at the war college that taught him Vietnam's biggest lesson -- when to send troops off to war.

MCCAIN: I think that those lessons have stood me in good stead particularly as far as the need for the most judicious use of committing young Americans into harm's way. It always must be the last resort.

KING: The physical consequences of his ordeal put McCain's naval career in doubt. He couldn't raise his arms above his shoulders or bend his right knee.

LARSON: That experience is always in the back of his mind.

KING: Old friends like Chuck Larson found McCain in remarkably good spirits, but worried about the physical toll.

LARSON: I realized that he's going to have some tough choices because he won't be able to fly.

KING: But McCain would not accept that and the war college assignment bought him some time.

MCCAIN: I wanted to get back on flying status. And I really thought that being able to fly airplanes and serve some more was something that I was willing to go through a lot of pain.

DIANE LAWRENCE, MCCAIN PHYSICAL THERAPIST: It was -- it was bad. It was -- his leg was frozen straight out, 180 degrees straight out.

KING: John McCain called physical therapist Diane Lawrence his physical terrorist. She treated him for nine months, two hours a day, two days a week. In an exclusive television interview, she spoke to us about McCain's fight to fly again.

LAWRENCE: It was excruciatingly painful for him. A 10 on a 10, scale of 10 for him to be able to go through the treatment. And he had to be able to flex that knee to 90 degrees to pass a flight physical. That was his goal.

MCCAIN: Every day she would bend my knee and to the point of passing out. In fact, interestingly in prison, I had built up a much higher tolerance for pain. And that served me in good stead during the therapy.

KING: But Lawrence also saw a softer side to McCain. There was a 10-year-old girl at the clinic named Annie who had a malignant brain tumor.

LAWRENCE: Her appointment was before his appointment. So sometimes he would come early just to talk to Annie.

KING: McCain arrived one day to learn Annie was fading and confined to home.

LAWRENCE: Oh, he said, can we go by and just see Annie? I don't want not to see her anymore. And she was so happy to see him. He walked over and gave her a kiss on the head and gave her a little pat. And she was just -- she just -- the world just lighted up for her.

KING (on camera): You're a complicated man. And as you know there are some people who say, John McCain, volcanic temper. He's irascible. The guy can be a son of a bitch. He holds a grudge if he doesn't like you. And then you talk to other people who tell these stories. Who are you?

MCCAIN: It's not my most favorite subject but the fact is, I was not a mature person in many respects as I was growing up. I hoped that I reached a point where I began to understand and appreciate the fact that you can't have everything all your own way because that certainly is what immaturity is.

KING (voice-over): After nine painful months, McCain scheduled his flight readiness test.

LAWRENCE: He went to Pensacola. I was in the clinic, and he came back a few days later after he had his physical. And he came in the clinic and he said, honey, I made it. We both cried. That took a long time.

KING: It was the fall of 1974. Flight ready, John McCain transferred to Jacksonville, Florida, and was rewarded with a major command. His naval star was on the rise. But trouble of McCain's making was on the horizon.

When we come back --

(on camera): -- was your wife at the time who said, John McCain came back and I needed him to be 40 and he wanted to be 25. What happened?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It was hardly the best of times to wear the uniform. It was the mid-1970s. Vietnam was over. Times were tough, and the toll of the war was steep.

MCCAIN: We had race problems on our aircraft carriers. We had rampant drug problems within the military. We had cutbacks in funding.

KING: For John McCain, it was a new chapter and a new test. Commanding officer of the VA-174 in Jacksonville, Florida.

CARL SMITH, FORMER FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR: Everybody knew him by reputation. I knew that he had been somewhat flamboyant when he was younger.

KING: Carl Smith was a flight instructor with McCain's unit, which trained pilots and cruise for carrier deployments. Smith quickly came to see one legacy, McCain's 5 1/2 year prison ordeal. SMITH: I think he was grown up. He was more focused unquestionably when he came back. He had a different set of priorities when he came back.

KING: When McCain took command, morale was low and many of the unit's planes were grounded. Soon, though, Smith says maintenance, safety and morale were on an upswing.

SMITH: He would go around to each one of those hangars every day, to each one of those shops, and he would go in and he'd talk to them. People in that shop, they were inspired. They were excited.

LARSON: John told me that he wanted to look ahead not back. He said, I don't want to be a professional POW.

KING: Still, old friends like Chuck Larson saw an urge to make up for lost time.

LARSON: Well, I think he came home wanting to get out, be among people. You know, have fun. Enjoy other people's company.

KING: Wife Carol had waited 5 1/2 years. And while friends may not have seen it, separation had taken a toll on the marriage.

LAWRENCE: She loved him. She loved him. I think she would have waited twice as long for him.

KING: Physical therapist Diane Lawrence knew Carol McCain long before working with John.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

JOHN LAURENCE, CBS NEWS REPORTING: Mrs. John McCain goes to the mailbox outside her home in Orange Park, Florida, six times each week, limping painfully --

KING: Carol had a horrific car accident while her husband was in Vietnam. Note her limp in this news footage. And she came to Diane Lawrence's clinic for therapy. The accident left the former model dramatically changed in appearance. But if John McCain was taken aback, friends didn't notice.

LAWRENCE: Happy, devoted, in love, you know. But happy. They were a happy couple.

KING: The Jacksonville command was a one-year rotation and McCain's reviews were glowing. But his transition was not as smooth as he made it appear. He had a secret. He had begun to cheat on Carol and in early 1977, he carried that secret with him to his next assignment, Navy liaison to the Senate in Washington, D.C.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER MAINE JUNIOR SENATOR: He was fun to be with.

KING: William Cohen was Maine's junior senator at the time and struck up an immediate bond with McCain. Their first trip was in 1978 to China.

COHEN: He was light-hearted. He also had been well traveled, and so he could -- he was just the right guy that you want to travel with. John felt passionately about issues, and he would be helpful in trying to say, here are the arguments that need to be made. This is how I might approach this issue. Here are the people to deal with.

KING: McCain liked shaping policy and loved the inner workings of politics. Ironically, while in Jacksonville, he had said no when local Republicans suggested he run for office. But now, he found himself fascinated by the big debates and by his world travels with senators.

MCCAIN: I think I started thinking about it when I saw that well-informed senators and people who knew the issues could have a significant impact on the formulation of national security policy.

KING: Early on, McCain kept his political aspirations to himself. And that wasn't the only thing McCain kept from even his closest friends. As he did in Jacksonville, John McCain was cheating on Carol.

Carl Smith lived with the McCains for 3 1/2 months in D.C.

(on camera): Did he ever talk to you about it as a friend? As you know, people have said some pretty harsh things about him, about that part of his life. Saying that he came home and --

SMITH: People who don't know him. You know, it's easy to judge somebody when you know very little about him.

KING: If you talk to most of your friends from those days, they say that John McCain post-Vietnam is a different person. He was more serious. He was more dedicated. He was focused on getting back in a plane. You hear that from 99 out of 100.

The one person who has a different perspective was your wife at the time who says John McCain came back and I needed him to be 40 and he wanted to be 25. What happened?

MCCAIN: I take full responsibility for the break-up of my first marriage. And I'm very grateful for the fact that Carol and I have a good relationship.

KING: Was it the war? Were you -- felt cheated on time?

MCCAIN: I don't know. I don't know, John, except the responsibility is mine.

KING (voice-over): For John McCain, it was, again, time to move on.

When we come back, a chance meeting that changed everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill. "McCain Revealed" continues in a moment. But first, here's what's happening now in the news.

Thousands of homes on Florida's southeast coast flooded by Tropical Storm Fay. Chad Myers is in the CNN severe weather center with more. And Fay not going away anytime soon, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, it just won't move at all. Going three miles per hour right now, so that's basically stationary. Areas in southern Brevard County, unofficially, 22 inches of rainfall since this started. Officially, more like 15 at the airports. But we know that not everybody lives at the airport and a lot of water on all of the streets.

Here's the center of circulation now from Crescent Beach all the way down to Marineland and Flagler Beach. That's going to be the bogey for tonight.

A lot of beach erosion. A lot of just wind and howling wind, 40, 50, 60 miles per hour. And then the storm moves off to the west. Yes, to the west. Not in the ocean anymore, but through maybe into the Gulf of Mexico. A very fickle storm.

We'll keep watching it. Right now, it's 60 miles per hour -- Erica.

HILL: All right, Chad. We'll keep checking in, thanks.

"McCain revealed" continues right here after the short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): Honolulu, Hawaii, April, 1979. A routine stopover for Naval liaison John McCain and a group of senators en route to Beijing. And a chance of a life-changing encounter.

MCCAIN: I saw her there and struck up a conversation with her.

CINDY MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S WIFE: I was a little taken aback because I was a lot younger than he was. And I was surprised he'd be interested.

KING: And you lied about your age?

MCCAIN: I lied. (laughs)

KING: The age disparity -- she is 17 years younger -- was the least of their worries. McCain was still married to Carol McCain. Their daughter Sydney was 12 years old.

The marriage was in trouble. He had been having affairs for several years. KING (on camera): And how does it sit with you? To those who have over the years have said, John McCain comes home from Vietnam, you know, leaves his wife, then marries this younger, beautiful, wealthy woman.

C. MCCAIN: At the time I didn't really understand what they were saying because my husband had been separated and he -- you know, 6 1/2 years, it was a long separation.

KING (voice-over): McCain wrote in his memoir that he began dating Cindy after he separated from his wife Carol. In fact, his own divorce filing shows they dated for nine months while he was still living with Carol. And records show he applied for a marriage license in Arizona before his divorce was final.

KING (on camera): The chronology that has presented publicly doesn't necessarily match the chronology of the documents, that you had applied for a marriage license in Arizona at a time when your divorce wasn't final yet.

MCCAIN: It's 30 years ago. I have a happy marriage.

C. MCCAIN: His reasons are his reasons. You know, I think I've been a good wife and I think I'm a good mother. And I think that's what he wanted. I think that's what he saw in me.

KING (voice-over): Marrying Cindy was a dramatic change, the first of many.

MCCAIN: I knew that I was not going to be able to stay on flying status. I think it was very clear.

KING: McCain's physical limitations precluded a major sea command, the stepping stone he needed to make admiral. It was frustrating. But his work in the Senate had brought new friends and a new passion. William Cohen was one of the senators John McCain became close friends with.

COHEN: He looked at the people that he was basically serving and saying, you know, these guys are important, but I think I can do the job as well as they can. And if the opportunity presents itself, I'm going to run.

KING (on camera): Did he feel that in some way he was betraying the family legacy by not at least going on a little bit more?

COHEN: I just got the sense that he was prepared to move on.

MCCAIN: I knew it was breaking that chain and that certainly had some emotional impact on me.

KING (voice-over): John McCain's father, Admiral Jack McCain, died in March of 1981. It reinforced John McCain's sense that his new options outweighed his family duty. So, once again, he moved on.

Arizona was growing, changing as fast as its new resident. Cindy's wealth helped smooth the transition. Her family owned a giant beer distributorship. McCain took a job in public relations and gained access to a who's who of Arizona power players.

MCCAIN: I saw Arizona as an opportunity for a great life. It was a great state. High growth rate. Lots of opportunities, including political opportunities.

KING: As always, he was in a hurry.

JAY SMITH, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER: John always wants to get to the finish line as quickly as he can.

KING: In fact, political consultant, Jay Smith's first conversation with McCain about running for Congress was before he had even moved to Arizona. Smith's advice, "take it slow."

J. SMITH: This is a very ambitious person who might have unrealistic expectations and that he wanted to run for Congress the following year in 1982 and he didn't have a district picked out.

KING: Then, a stroke of luck or fate. In early 1982, the house minority leader and veteran Republican Congressman John Rose announced he was retiring. Within hours, John McCain bought a house in Tempe in Arizona's first congressional district.

McCain was an underdog, but one with the benefit of the Hensley family's money and political connections. Not to mention his trademark tenacity.

MCCAIN: Every day, first thing in the morning, I'd be out there knocking on doors, and do it literally all day long.

J. SMITH: The temperature is over 100 degrees every day, sometimes up to 150. And he knocked on 20,000 Republican doors in that heat.

KING: Critics called him a carpetbagger, that he had no ties to the community. Attacks would come at every candidate forum. Then one night, McCain veered from his usual answer about Arizona being full of newcomers and talked about his life as a Navy brat and officer.

J. SMITH: He walked to the edge of the stage and said, pal, we tend to move around a lot. I would love to have, you know, grown up in a nice place like Arizona, but I was doing other things and they were important things.

And he said, now that I think of it, the longest place I've ever lived in was Hanoi. And there was silence for about 15 seconds. And then a thunderous applause and a standing ovation. And nobody ever asked that question of him again.

KING: Good instincts for a political neophyte. His tenacity and fight would be rewarded. He was going back to Washington. This time, as Congressman John McCain from Arizona.

When we come back, the first big test of party loyalty and the headline-grabbing fight with a popular president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

KING (voice-over): It was Ronald Reagan's second State of the Union address.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American uniform is once again worn with pride.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: New Congressman John McCain's first. He was an eager foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. And his celebrity POW status gave him an instant advantage.

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY: If somebody from Washington, wow, you work for John McCain, that's what it was about.

KING: Torie Clarke signed on as press secretary and says from day one, it was clear McCain was and wanted to be different.

CLARKE: A complex Republican, certainly quite conservative on most of the social issues. But you couldn't predict him every time out of the box.

KING: The early clash with the commander-in-chief would define McCain's first term.

(on camera): Did they tell you, John, don't do this?

MCCAIN: Well, they asked me not to and talked to me, yes.

KING (voice-over): U.S. Marines were part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon. In the fall of 1983, President Reagan wanted authority to extend that deployment 18 months.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: What's the United States' interest in Lebanon?

It is said we're there to keep the peace. I ask, what peace?

KING: To the Republican leadership, McCain's no vote was an act of defiance -- but to him a vote of conscience shaped by the scars of Vietnam. MCCAIN: Everything in me told me it was doomed to failure. And I regret to this day that I was right.

KING: One month later, October 23rd, 1983, a terrorist truck bomb blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut. Two hundred and forty-one American servicemen were killed.

John McCain's foresight catapulted him into the headlines.

Re-election to the House in 1984 was a cakewalk and John McCain began thinking about a bigger stage. Once again, his ambition had the gift of good timing. Conservative icon Barry Goldwater decided to retire after an five terms in the Senate.

(on camera): There was no question that he would run (INAUDIBLE)?

CLARKE: None whatsoever. None whatsoever.

J. SMITH: He had everything going right for him. And all we had to pray for was that there wouldn't be a mishap, you know, or hit a ditch in the road.

KING: Campaign adviser Jay Smith recalls the day McCain's sarcasm threatened his path to the Senate.

J. SMITH: He was trying to make a joke about people that live in Leisure World, a retirement community, speaking to a college audience. And he referred to them as Seizure World.

KING: His Democratic opponent, Richard Kimball, suggested McCain was insulting Arizona's large elderly population. And Kimball tried to goad McCain into losing his temper.

RICHARD KIMBALL: You come in here and you treat people for suckers. You come and you stand on a soapbox to make yourself up here to look taller.

KING: But McCain wouldn't take the bait. He campaigned tirelessly as a conservative with an Independent streak and advertised heavily as he outspend his opponent four to one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I don't support everything that the administration does, but I believe that President Reagan has put America on the right path

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In the end, he won with 60 percent of the vote -- a landslide. Like Barry Goldwater, McCain would use the Senate seat as a springboard to national prominence.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: In 1988, he received a coveted speaking slot at the New Orleans Republican Convention. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Ronald Reagan and George Bush remember

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The Senate was a club where tradition and seniority ruled. But McCain wasn't treated like most freshmen, because he had so many high-powered friends from his Navy liaison days.

John Tower stood out among those friends. He was McCain's mentor.

MCCAIN: And I loved John Tower. He was like a father to me, in many respects.

JOHN TOWER: But I think that's essential.

KING: In 19899, Tower's nomination to be secretary of defense was suddenly derailed by allegations of excessive drinking and lewd behavior.

(on camera): This is the beginning of some of your disagreements with organizations on the right that have continued for some time.

MCCAIN: I think the fact that one of the leaders of the "religious right" triggered some of this by saying that he had observed John Tower misbehaving at one of the local watering holes -- and I knew John Tower and I know he didn't do that.

KING (voice-over): That tension with the religious right would harden over the years into deep mutual mistrust. But a bigger test was coming, where McCain's own character and integrity would be questioned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could all agree that a senator's responsibility...

KING: The Keating Five scandal was a window on Washington at its worst -- five powerful senators intervening to help a major political contributor, Charles Keating. He was the flamboyant owner of the risk- taking Lincoln Savings and Loan, whose failure eventually cost taxpayers $3.4 billion. He was also a high-powered McCain constituent and friend.

CLARKE: It was a very, very close, personal relationship. The families spent a lot of time together. They traveled so often together with the Keating family, flying to their place in the Bahamas.

KING: There were direct business ties, as well. Cindy McCain had a major stake in a Keating real estate development.

(on camera): He knew his wife had a financial relationship.

Do you think sometimes he is so convinced of his own integrity that maybe he has a blind spot?

CLARKE: He absolutely may have had a blind spot on things like this, but that's where, I think the Keating Five scandal was one of the best things that happened to him professionally.

KING: At Keating's request, the five senators demanded a meeting with regulators investing the S&L.

MCCAIN: My mistake was to go to the meeting. But at the meeting I said that -- that I wanted no special favors. I wanted no -- anything done that would be -- appear unethical or wrong.

WILLIAM BLACK: No Senator we've ever met with, or member of Congress, has ever started with the presumption that they're about to tell us something improper in a meeting.

KING: William Black was one of the lead investigators at the meeting.

BLACK: And our feeling was if he's scared, we should be petrified.

KING: The Senate Ethics Committee investigated. A special counsel recommended McCain and another Senator, John Glenn, be dropped from the probe. But in the end, McCain and Glenn got mild rebukes for poor judgment -- much less harsh than the findings against the other three senators.

BLACK: Senator McCain was unique among the five senators in having a direct financial conflict of interest involving direct investments.

KING: Former regulator Black is unforgiving.

BLACK: On judgment, ethics and truthfulness, he failed this test as badly as you can fail.

MCCAIN: Mr. Black can say what he wants to. Everybody can say what they want to. Bob Bennett was appointed as a special investigator. He said I should have been dropped from it. And he said that it's the worst injustice he's seen in all of his years in Washington, D.C. I think people take Mr. Bennett's word.

KING: McCain aides say he was stung at the suggestion he could be bought. At a news conference, Torie Clarke was so worried his anger would boil over, she took a seat in the front row.

CLARKE: We had our signal worked out. If he started to lose his temper, I would rub my nose. I came close. I think my hand came up a few times. But I never really had to do it. I thought that the factors were there -- the elements were in place that he was going to explode in a big public way. It might have happened at that press conference.

KING: It was not the first time his temper was an issue -- and hardly the last.

When we come back, another crisis looms, one that will test more than McCain's temper.

(END VIDEO TAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Playing out in the West...

KING (voice-over): Election night 1992.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republican incumbent John McCain is wining a second term in the Senate.

KING: Winning 56 percent of the vote meant more to John McCain than a second term in the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED SUPPORTERS: Four more years.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

KING: He saw his re-election as vindication and believed the dark days of the Keating Five scandal were over.

MCCAIN: We will do everything we can to break the gridlock in Washington.

KING: McCain wanted a fresh start.

But not so fast -- his wife Cindy was keeping a secret.

C. MCCAIN: I was afraid to tell him because I didn't want to let him down. And as it turned out, he should have been the first one I turned to.

KING: She had begun taking painkillers after back surgery in 1989. Cindy McCain became addicted and blamed the stress of the Keating Five investigation for making it worse. The addiction got so bad, she stole drugs from a medical charity she headed.

C. MCCAIN: I didn't want to -- I had so much going on, I didn't want to "bother him." That was the biggest mistake I ever made.

MCCAIN: Well, I should have -- I should have detected it much earlier. And that's my great regret. And I feel badly that I did not, because perhaps we could have taken action sooner.

C. MCCAIN: My husband didn't do anything wrong. Addiction is a very cunning enemy. And it made me very good at hiding it, because that's what addicts do.

KING: They went public in 1994 only after a local newspaper started asking questions about a federal investigation of the charity's drug inventories. She was, by then, a mother of four -- Meghan, Jack, Jimmy and Bridget, who was adopted.

C. MCCAIN: When you're dependent on something, you don't -- you don't think rationally or think, you know, the way you should. KING: Most of the media coverage was favorable. But not all. An "Arizona Republic" editorial cartoon depicted Cindy stealing drugs from a disadvantaged baby.

MCCAIN: I thought that that cartoon was gratuitous and obviously offensive.

C. MCCAIN: He was furious.

KING (on camera): So furious that he ordered everyone not to talk to the newspaper?

C. MCCAIN: Right.

KING: For a year?

C. MCCAIN: I don't remember the time, but, yes. That's about right, yes.

KING (voice-over): It was not the first time the newspaper had felt McCain's wrath.

In 1991, longtime columnist E.J. Montini was struck during the Clarence Thomas hearings when both of Arizona's senators, McCain and Democrat Dennis DeConcini announced they would vote to confirm Thomas to the Supreme Court before Anita Hill detailed her claims of sexual harassment.

E.J. MONTINI, COLUMNIST: So I wrote a column for the next day saying, gee, our two senators must have some kind of sixth sense. And it was -- you know, the point of view where it said they -- they can see this woman is a liar even before she testifies and -- because she hadn't said a word yet.

My phone rang. I picked up my phone and it was Senator McCain on the phone.

KING (on camera): He called you directly?

MONTINI: Oh, yes. And he was quite upset and very, very angry and talking about how I had assassinated his character.

KING (voice-over): It would be 12 years of silence from McCain before this note came in the mail praising the Montini column.

MONTINI: I do think that he has a long memory and I do think that he -- that if you get on his bad side, the opportunities for you to get on his good side are very small and very limited.

TOM DASCHLE, FORMER SENATOR: So it just was part of working with John McCain.

KING: Democrat Tom Daschle is among many in Washington with memories of McCain's sharp tongue.

(on camera): So it's a string of expletives and insults? DASCHLE: Right.

KING: The end goal being to let off steam or is he trying to bully you?

DASCHLE: Probably a little of both. I don't know. I'm not a psychoanalyst. I have no idea what may behind those outbursts. But they happen with some frequency.

KING (voice-over): Daschle describes McCain as emotional, visceral, yet distances himself from Democrats who say McCain is too volatile.

DASCHLE: I'm not saying I'm right. All I'm saying is I don't view it as a -- as a problem.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: I'm for Barack Obama for president. And I think he has a perfect temperament to be president of the United States. But even though I feel strongly about that, I can't sit here and say that John McCain doesn't have the temperament to be the president of the United States. I frankly think he does. And I think he'd be a good president.

KING: Russ Feingold and John McCain would become a famous political odd couple in Washington. McCain and the liberal Democrat were on the opposite side of many issues. But when McCain wanted to recast himself after the Keating Five scandal, he called the reform- minded Feingold.

FEINGOLD: And I thought my staff had the wrong name. And he said -- he said, "Russ, I'm looking for somebody to work with on the Democratic side. I've been looking at your record. You seem to be very strong on good government issues, on controlling spending, on government reform, would you work with me?

And I said well, absolutely.

KING (on camera): The McCain/Feingold alliance began in late 1994 and would test the patience and tenacity of both senators. Their goal was to fundamentally change the way campaigns were funded, especially by outlawing those giants unregulated contributions known here in Washington as soft money. Both parties rely on that money. But the opposition from McCain's Republican leadership was particularly fierce.

FEINGOLD: Oh, I never had any doubt that he'd take the heat.

KING (voice-over): Maverick was the label more and more attached to McCain. And he liked it.

FEINGOLD: I think he's essentially an Independent who wants to call them as he sees them. I think modus operandi is to say here's a problem, what can we do to fix it?

KING: But fixing campaign laws to their liking was easier said than done. Several rewrites and four years of trying still left McCain/Feingold short votes.

John McCain was frustrated, restless and looking for a bigger stage.

MCCAIN: It is a fight to take our government back from the power brokers and special interests.

KING: Straight talk was his slogan and much more. It is a window on how John McCain sees himself -- on how much he thrives on being seen as different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It starts in Iowa

KING: Free-wheeling sessions on his bus were different from more scripted candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You dodged that one.

CLARKE: He enjoys engaging with reporters.

KING: Former press secretary and close friend, Torie Clarke.

(on camera): He enjoys it, but it's also a tactic, is it not, that he thinks he gets a better deal and maybe a little forgiveness from the press if he's so accessible?

CLARKE: Sure. Absolutely. And it's probably true. It's probably true. And 95 percent of the time, that very forward leaning, out front kind of attitude serves him very well.

KING (voice-over): He also campaigned relentlessly in New Hampshire. And the payoff was huge. McCain, 49 percent; then governor George W. Bush, 30 percent. The tenacious underdog had engineered a, stunning upset.

When we come back, a lesson in the ugly side of politics and John McCain's constant struggle to find his place.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): South Carolina is conservative country, deep in the old Confederacy. And the candidates in 2000 could not avoid the state's big debate...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Bring the red rag down.

KING: ...whether to keep the confederate flag flying atop the state house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where the South was born.

KING: John McCain's first answer was from the heart. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION", JANUARY 9, 2000)

MCCAIN: The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It's a symbol of racism and slavery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It made conservatives furious in a state with a history of deciding who wins Republican nomination battles. So straight talk took a detour. Aides talked McCain into retreating, though he looked pained and scripted.

MCCAIN: I understand both sides. Some view it as a symbol of slavery. Others view it as a symbol of heritage. Personally, I see the battle flag as a symbol of heritage.

KING: It was hardly his only worry.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It feels a lot warmer here in the State of South Carolina, if you know what I mean.

KING: Governor Bush was determined to rebound from his New Hampshire humiliation and aggressively questioned McCain's conservative credentials.

BUSH: I'm here to take my conservative values in this conservative state and earn the confidence of the important people of South Carolina.

KING: And under the radar attacks -- e-mails and phone calls -- were vicious, calling McCain's wife a drug addict and falsely accusing him of fathering a black child out of wedlock. McCain's adopted daughter Bridget is from Bangladesh.

MCCAIN: It's very upsetting when something like that happens because it shakes your faith a little bit in people. But those things you have to put behind you.

Well, we fell a little short tonight.

KING: He was not so forgiving at the time. McCain lost South Carolina and soon was gone from the 2000 race. He angrily accused Bush and his allies on the Christian right of dirty smears.

MCCAIN: This is a $2 million smear campaign that's being orchestrated.

KING: Torie Clarke, who was in the Bush camp now, told her old boss he was dead wrong.

CLARKE: And they'd look at me or they'd say on the phone, this is the meanest stuff that's ever happened in politics. And I would just laugh and say no, it's not. And you're a student of history and you should know better. It's not. Get over yourselves. You got beat.

KING: But McCain was bitter. If Republicans didn't want him, maybe he didn't want them.

DASCHLE: He has denied many of these conversations, but I remember them very clearly.

KING: In 2001, secret talks about switching parties. By then, Tom Daschle was the Senate's Tom Democrat.

DASCHLE: He was doing it to make a point, to maybe to exaggerate his sense of frustration. But it became more serious as the discussion and conversations led to how he would do this and why we would do it.

KING: McCain denies the talks were ever that detailed. And, in any case, he remained a Republican. But he relished his independence as he carved out a new Senate role. He voted against the Bush tax cuts and eagerly worked with Democrats, helping enact an HMO patients bill of rights and finally getting the McCain/Feingold bill to the finish line.

MCCAIN: We're confident of passage.

DASCHLE: He has been truly one of the few real bipartisan Republicans, consistently so. And these were fairly consequential pieces of legislation, for which he was the Republican sponsor.

KING: To say he is complicated is an understatement.

In 2002, he stood with President Bush in pushing to remove Saddam Hussein from power, yet repeatedly complained the administration risked disaster by sending too few troops to get the job done.

MCCAIN: The problem is that they don't have enough resources.

KING: And in 2004, more drama -- another flirtation with the other side -- talk of serving as Democrat John Kerry's running mate. Then, instead, the decision to make a stand and a statement by campaigning for his old Republican rival's re-election.

BUSH: The debate phase of the campaign is over.

KING (on camera): There he is with his buddy, George W. Bush...

CLARKE: Right.

KING: ...who clearly is not his buddy.

CLARKE: Politicians do it do it all the time.

KING (voice-over): McCain saw a personal stake. He was thinking of running again in 2008 and helping President Bush also helped him repair his Republican credentials.

MCCAIN: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance

KING: He was even ready to make peace with the religious right. MCCAIN: Jerry Falwell comes to my office and says I want to put our differences behind us. I said I'd be glad to do it. Reconciliation and redemption are two of the things I most believe in.

I'm not running for president to be somebody, but to do something.

KING: The straight talk sequel would be different -- very different. Running for the presidency is the most public of job interviews and McCain's second attempt had a disastrous start. The bloated campaign squandered millions and the polls turned bleak. Conservatives rejected him for being too soft on illegal immigrants. Independents shied away because he backed an Iraq War they saw as a debacle.

MCCAIN: I'd much rather lose a political campaign than lose a war.

KING: The No Surrender Tour, he called it -- town hall after town hall.

QUESTION: And would you please rank for me your top five priorities?

KING: The ask anything approach.

QUESTION: A quarter billion dollars, as I recall.

KING: Reminded New Hampshire what it liked the first time around.

(VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He rebounded -- and then some.

(on camera): It was expected of you maybe to be an admiral, like your father and your grandfather.

Do you ever think in the back of your mind, well, you know, president would trump admiral?

MCCAIN: Yes. But it...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: I've thought about that on occasion. But I still think that a guy who stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy could get the nomination of the Republican Party is quite a phenomenal thing. Every once in a while I do pinch myself.

KING (voice-over): So just who is John McCain?

His combative personality and endless will to win is a constant.

Reeves Richie (ph) sees it now, just as he did wrestling at Episcopal High more than 50 years ago. REEVES RICHIE: I don't see anything about Mac today that I would have said oh my gosh, where'd that come from, you know, including the fact he can butt heads with people or piss them off a little bit.

MCCAIN: Well, we've got to be committed to the right kind of change.

KING: McCain sees himself in the pages of the history books he still reads constantly.

MCCAIN: As a Teddy Roosevelt Republican...

Teddy Roosevelt was very unpopular from time to time in his own party because he was a reformer. He believed in eliminating corruption. He believed in conservative values and principles.

KING: But others look. And in this campaign, at least, see less maverick and more calculating.

MCCAIN: If you believe you should pay more taxes, I'm the wrong candidate for you.

So I've got a message. The message is this, my friend. Americans want the borders secured first.

DASCHLE: I think that John McCain is being what John McCain thinks he has to be now. I don't consider that necessarily a fault.

KING (on camera): This is the race I'm in, so this is who I have to be?

DASCHLE: Yes.

KING: You think it's just pure cynical calculation?

DASCHLE: I don't think it's cynical. I think he is accommodating his political needs at the time. Some might call that cynical. I'd say that's John McCain.

KING (voice-over): John McCain will be 72 on election day -- the oldest person ever elected president, if he wins. He wants one more mission. But it is not his decision.

(on camera): If you, in a sentence or two, had to describe the career of Senator John McCain...

MCCAIN: Senator John McCain put his country first. Senator John McCain worked hard. Senator John McCain made mistakes. Senator John McCain, after making those mistakes, tried to improve, to do better and be a better servant of the people -- an imperfect one, but one who served honorably.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: Senator McCain can at times seem out of place in today's TV age politics. He can't go bowling or toss a baseball because of the physical toll of the torture and beatings of his POW days. And he's a child of World War II and the cold war, who hates teleprompters and is an Internet novice.

His hope is that voters look at his life story and see the experience they want in a commander-in-chief -- Suzanne.

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