No promises, just blunt talk from McCain

The senator supports neither a federal catastrophe fund nor Florida's early primary.

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published September 2, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Arizona Sen. John McCain last year paid homage to the evangelical leaders he once decried and spent much of 2004 cozying up to former rival President Bush. But apparently the recovering maverick Republican still hasn't mastered the art of pandering.

For most of the presidential contenders courting votes in Florida, it's a no-brainer: Declare full support - heck, even vague interest works - in creating a national catastrophe fund to alleviate Florida's property insurance crisis by spreading the risk to taxpayers across the country. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani did it, as did Joe Biden. Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, to name a few.

And McCain?

"If people are going to build homes where hurricanes hit, they have to assume a great part of that liability. We don't have that many hurricanes that hit Arizona, as you know," he declared in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9. "We need to all work together and see if the present unacceptable situation can be remedied, and if that requires some federal action, I'm for it - but not just insuring anybody for any circumstance. I'm not going to do that. I would not support such a thing."

That curt answer to a Florida audience that would rather hear otherwise helps explain either why McCain's gone from presidential front-runner to long shot, or why it's too soon to write off an unpredictable politician like Mr. Straight Talk.

He didn't even express much sympathy for the Florida GOP, which faces the loss of half of its delegates to the national convention for scheduling its presidential primary on Jan. 29, a week earlier than allowed by the national party.

"Every state that leapfrogs back because they want more influence, I understand that. But we're now deciding the nominee of the party sometime in January or at the latest by the beginning of February. It's bizarre. There's got to be some order put into it."

Hawking both his candidacy and his new book, Hard Call, McCain in the taped TV interview recounted his experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and declared his beleaguered campaign alive and well. He insisted its rocky performance this year is no reflection on his leadership ability.

"We're going to win this campaign. We're doing fine. Turnouts at the town hall meetings are fine, the money's coming in, and I am clearly the most prepared candidate," said McCain, 71. "I didn't say that I would have a perfect administration, I said that when I recognize mistakes, we fix them and we move on, and that's what we've done with the campaign."

On Thursday his onetime close friend, actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson officially enters the presidential race, and McCain said he was not surprised Thompson would be looking strong in the polls.

"Why not? He's been president two or three times in the movies. He's been an admiral, he's been head of the CIA," McCain quipped.

While acknowledging a lack of political progress in Iraq has been frustrating, McCain insisted the current military strategy is working and it's too soon to start pulling back.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8241.

Fast facts

When to watch

The interview airs at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Bay News 9 and can be seen on Channel 342 (9 on demand).