McCain Gets Today Show Boost Before Super Tuesday

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Rolling through the streets of New York City Friday morning, Arizona Senator John McCain had a golden opportunity to reach America's breakfast crowd, as NBC Today show host Matt Lauer hopped aboard the candidate's campaign bus.

Four days before Super Tuesday, Lauer began his interview with McCain, not by asking about the issues, but by mentioning some new Bush campaign ads. That gave McCain a chance to once again rebuke George W. Bush for "being negative."

A new Bush campaign ad says John McCain the Senator voted against funding for breast cancer research: "It's very unfortunate," McCain said. "I had the clear record of voting in support of breast cancer research on many, many occasions," he said.

"Is this a case of your record then being twisted by the Bush campaign?" asked Lauer, giving McCain the chance to respond this way: "Of course, of course, but it's not the first time or the last. They've done nothing but negative ads attacking me in most states, but that doesn't bother me. We're pressing on with our message of reform, and changing the shape of American politics."

Playing right into McCain's hand, Lauer also brought up another ad that's running in New York, this one dealing with the topic of clean air. The ad says "Senator John McCain voted against solar and renewable energy," and Lauer mentioned that it was paid for by a small political action committee out of Texas.

"Well, I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money," responded McCain, "and somebody's putting in $2 million dollars to hijack the campaign ...but I know that again, this is symptomatic of part of their campaign."

"I can't worry too much about those things, except this is what I've been fighting against, you see, the soft money - nobody knows where it comes from ... this is why campaign finance reform is so important -- to do away with the soft money, which obviously Gov. Bush is rejecting," McCain said.

Asked how he plans to win New York, McCain said he has to "stay on message and not be diverted by a lot of this stuff that's going on." He said he thinks New Yorkers will respond to "my message of reform, of bringing everybody into our party, expanding the base, and being a true reformer and to give them back their government."

McCain said he "had to" challenge the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "because those two individuals are trying to lead the party into the politics of exclusion rather than inclusion. If we don't reject those two individuals then we'll never be the party again that gains a majority."

With a touch of the martyr, McCain admitted his criticism of Robertson and Falwell has caused him to take a beating with staunch Republicans - but he said it's a price he's willing to pay: "Well, you've got to do what you think is best for your party, you can't gauge what you do just based on your political ambitions. If I did that, then I would just be another politician," he said. "You've got to do what you think is right."

After reciting some of the transgressions that prompted him to repudiate the conservative Christian leaders, McCain said, "The point is, what you've got to do, is do what's best for your party first and the country then -"

"Even if it's at your own personal expense?" Lauer asked.

"Sure, sure, oh, sure" McCain responded. "I have had to take on the Republican establishment and the status quo with this reform message."

The interview got a little tougher for McCain when Lauer reminded him of his promise to always tell the truth.

Lauer specifically mentioned McCain's denial that his campaign had distributed fliers described as negative by the Bush campaign - as well as McCain's denial that his campaign had sponsoring a recorded telephone message accusing Bush of being anti-Catholic. McCain later admitted that his campaign was indeed responsible for both the fliers and the "Catholic Voter Alert" telephone messages.

McCain insisted he did not make the calls calling Bush an anti-Catholic bigot. "I pointed out what he did, which he later apologized for. He later apologized for doing what I wanted people to know that he did."

The only policy question that came up was the issue of arms sales to Taiwan - should America give Taiwan weapons that could be used for offensive as well as defensive purposes?

McCain said he would leave some of the recommendations up to the Pentagon and the State Dept. "I'd get their recommendations as to whether we should or not. More importantly, what I'd do is spend a lot of money to develop a sea-based missile defense system so we could put our ships in international waters in the area if [Taiwan] were threatened." He said that might remove the need for the Taiwanese to have some of the weapons they want.

"The one thing the Chinese have to understand is if they commit aggression against Taiwan, the consequences will be far greater than anything they might gain from it. It would be terribly destabilizing and harmful to everything in the region, which becomes more and more important to the United States of America," McCain said.

McCain predicted he'll do very well on Super Tuesday, noting his remarkable progress in recent weeks. He said he has no regrets about his campaign. "This has been a great ride. We've had a wonderful time."