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Drop in contributions may be least of McCain's worries

Washington Bureau Chieffritz
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By SARA FRITZ, Times Washington Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

Battling skin cancer, Sen. John McCain has been raising significantly less money than expected, prompting renewed speculation that he will not seek re-election in 2004. The 2000 GOP presidential candidate's Straight Talk America political action committee took in $233,000 in contributions in the second half of 2001, about $1-million less than in the first half of the year. McCain also cut back the PAC's expenses.

Last week, doctors removed a cancerous skin lesion from the side of his nose. It was his third operation to remove skin cancer: In 1993 a lesion was cut from his upper arm, and during the 2000 presidential campaign a lesion was taken off his temple, leaving a noticeable scar.

Although McCain's aides say doctors predict a full recovery, McCain himself was more fatalistic in a profile in the Feb. 4 issue of the New Yorker.

After writer Nicholas Lemann confronted McCain with the medical literature's "bleaker prognosis" for sufferers of recurring skin cancer, the Arizona Republican said: "I know you're right. Poor dear Maureen Reagan started with a place on the back of her thigh. The doctors told me all that.

"But the other way of looking at it is, I am extremely fortunate to be here now," McCain, a former Vietnam War POW, told the New Yorker.

Meet the man in the box

Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and former Sen. Sam Nunn have met many times over the years with Vice President Dick Cheney, who previously has served as a congressman and secretary of defense. But their meeting on Dec. 18 will likely be the most memorable.

When the two men arrived at the Old Executive Office Building, where the vice president's office is located, they were escorted into a bare room with only two chairs positioned in front of a television set.

Once they were seated, Cheny's face flashed on the screen of the television. "Welcome," Cheney said. "It's good to see you."

The entire meeting, in which they discussed Lugar's views on terrorism and the so-called Nunn-Lugar program for dismantling nuclear weapons in Russia, was conducted via closed-circuit television.

They never learned exactly where Cheney was located. Nor did they ask why two men of their excellent reputation and stature were being denied a face-to-face meeting with the vice president.

White House officials announced last week that the vice president would be resuming a normal life after spending nearly five months in virtual seclusion at the request of the Secret Service. Cheney's isolation, which began immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, was designed to preserve the line of succession in the event President Bush was killed in an attack.

Time to pay toll: It's free

The man in a jacket and tie walked up to two visitors in the subway that connects the U.S. Capitol to the House and Senate office buildings and asked if they had their subway tickets.

When the visitors ignored him, he said, "That's okay, I can collect in the car."

When the subway train arrived, they all got in. As the visitors sat down, the man stood by them and asked if they'd be making a round trip.

Then he asked for $2 apiece.

"Are you serious?" one of the visitors asked, recalling that the Capitol subway was free.

But the man persisted.

Finally, the visitors realized he was pulling their leg. "I've actually had people try to give me the money," the man volunteered.

The visitors didn't recognize the man.

But the next day, while thumbing through a Who's Who guide in Congress, one of them spotted him. Right there, on Page 14, was a picture of the alleged toll collector: It was none other than U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

When told about the subway encounter, Conrad's spokeswoman, Laurie Boeder, just laughed.

-- Times staff writers Mary Jacoby, Sara Fritz and Paul de la Garza contributed to this column.

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