Senator McCain's `straight-talking' bandwagon rolls into The South

MID-MORNING on a hazy winters day, and the red, white and blue campaign bus of Senator John McCain is barrelling down the interstate highway towards the South Carolina town of Spartanburg.

Inside, "the candidate", or "Johnny Mac", as he is known to his staff, is deep into what has become his trademark activity so far as America's political insiders are concerned: pleasing the media.

Mr McCain, as the rest of America is starting to learn, is running for President, and running, in his case, is the operative word. The outspoken Senator for Arizona already has two morning engagements behind him and is spending, with transparent good will, a full two hours with reporters aboard his comfortably appointed campaign vehicle, the "Straight Talk Express" He is chatting and joking and explaining his policies over doughtnuts and coffee.

Today, "the candidate" inadvertently "leaks" the news that he is suddenly doing rather well. The vast lead built up by the favourite for the Republican nomination, George W. Bush, is on the wane, and that is true, too, in South Carolina, where the third Republican primary election will be held in just over two months' time. Mr McCain, whose military career and heroism as a prisoner of war in Vietnam makes him a strong contender in a state like South Carolina with a large number of military veterans and a concentration of bases, had been trailing Mr Bush by more than 40 points (15 to Mr Bush's 62) as recently as one month ago. Now, according to internal campaign polls he is "well out of his teens".

He is doing far better, too, on the financial front.The amount he has raised over the Internet is nudging $1m (pounds 0.6m) second only to the sum raised the new-tech way by the Democratic challenger, Bill Bradley.

The money raised overall could reach $20m by the end of the year, after a strong surge in the past month. That sum, as his campaign team points out, is comparable with the amount raised by Republican Party front-runners in the past. It only looks meagre against the gargantuan $70m raised by Mr Bush. But, as these self-styled "whacky insurgents" insist, there comes a point where enough money is enough.

"The American voters cannot be bought," says his chief campaign sponsor in South Carolina, Richard Quinn, perhaps hopefully.

At each of his appearances, Mr McCain has one overriding message: the need to reform the current - as he sees it, corrupt - system of political funding, and he presents this as the essential "gateway" to every other change he would aim to introduce as President.

Now, it is physical stamina as much as message that counts, and Mr McCain's schedule is as demanding as any. Perhaps this is why his impromptu discussions with reporters are such a success: they are equally exhausted.

The timetable for his day and a half swing through South Carolina was typical. Before starting Mr McCain managed six hours' sleep.

But the previous night was worse, he arrived in the port city of Charleston at 2.30am, direct from the previous evening's televised debate in the mid-Western state of Iowa. On Tuesday, he addressed a lunch with a rapturous group of Rotarians. It was, they said, the biggest turnout for any Rotarian lunch in South Carolina; bigger even than the lunch with George W. Bush last month.

Mr McCain spoke about reforming the health system without putting the federal authorities in charge. He muffed some of his lines, perhaps the effect of his late night, but the audience did not mind.

He solicited questions, answering flawlessly from education to gun control, on to military preparedness and religion in schools, gays in the military and the handover of Panama (where he happened to be born), he managed to be spontaneous and considered.

Next stop, after a half hour with the press, is Columbia, two hours' drive away inland.

Two fund-raising dinners, one with three comrades from his prisoner-of- war days, were rounded off with more than an hour in a question session on the Internet arranged by the women's Web service, iVillage.

More than 1,000 questions were submitted, from every state of the Union, except, to his mystification, North Dakota. "What's wrong with North Dakota," he quipped to the presenter.

He was visibly tired, his eyes, which he rubbed occasionally, reduced almost to slits, but he sat full square, beside the laptop computer in the television offices, answering in measured tones on a myriad topics, with never a political slip. At 8am yesterday a packed audience of predominantly military veterans awaited him at the Flight Deck cafe.

Two hours later, StraightTalk Express drew into the driveway of Converse College in Spartanburg, a charmingly provincial campus, dotted with southern mansions with sweeping verandas.

Another packed audience, another speech (campaign finance reform), more questions, and more answers. Another day in the candidate's run.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there