... while maverick who stayed away retains mystique

IOWA had been crawling with Republican presidential hopefuls for weeks before yesterday's "straw poll". But there was one notable absentee.

Senator John McCain had announced weeks earlier that he would not take part, and he stuck to his decision, calling the proceedings "a sham".

Through the past week, as his fellow Republicans braved torrential rain and furious farmers the length and breadth of the state, Mr McCain was relaxing with his wife, Cindy, and their four children at home in Arizona. Today he will offer his thoughts on the Iowa results on two television talk shows, and tomorrow he will set off back on the campaign trail, starting a bus tour of California.

Ever since March, when he delayed announcing his bid for the presidency because, he said, it was inappropriate to do so when the country was effectively at war (against Yugoslavia), Mr McCain has set himself apart. After initially condemning President Clinton for using insufficient force over Kosovo, he became one of the Democratic President's staunchest supporters, scattering his fellow Republican Senators to either side: those who opposed any involvement in the conflict and those who said ground troops were essential to victory.

The Kosovo conflict put Mr McCain's candidacy on the map. He is one of the few presidential contenders from either party who has no lack of military credentials and no qualms about exposing his military record. Now 62 and a Senator since 1986, he campaigns as a "genuine American hero". The son of an admiral, he was a Navy pilot who was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for five-and-a-half years. It is on record that he was offered his freedom on several occasions, but refused it on the grounds that it would break his solidarity with those who did not have his connections.

In a book to be published in the autumn (to coincide with the start of the nomination race proper), he writes that there were times when he despaired and attempted suicide.

A hawk on foreign policy and defence, but no isolationist, he is not a conventional Republican; some go so far as to call him a radical. He is an outspoken campaigner for reform of the political funding system, which he calls "corrupt", and he has joined leading Democrats in advocating strong curbs on the tobacco industry. He has argued that the party should take a less dogmatic stance on abortion (which it is gradually doing).

Mr McCain would be the first to concede that one reason for his staying away from Iowa was his relatively weak support in that state. A good speaker and impressive television performer (but said to be short-tempered in private), he sees himself as more of a New Hampshire kind of "independent" and does well in opinion polls in that state.

In fact, uncommitted voters in several states say that they are torn between supporting him and the Democratic challenger to Vice-President Al Gore, Bill Bradley.

His fund-raising has gone well; among Republicans he stands third, after the runaway leader, George W Bush, and the billionaire publisher Steve Forbes. With hindsight, Mr McCain's decision not to join the frenzy in Iowa looks even wiser than it did at the time he made it. However misleading a guide to the caucuses and primaries that constitute the real selection procedure, yesterday's paid-for straw poll will be interpreted as an indicator of the candidates' fund-raising capacity and therefore of their prospects. By remaining aloof, Mr McCain has preserved an aura of mystery and shown himself to be one of a kind - which is perhaps his strongest selling point.

Suggested Topics
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home