John Sidney McCain III (born August 29, 1936) is the frontrunner to become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party in 2008, earned as a result being the runner-up in the last contested Republican presidential primary. Since at least 1976, the runner-up in the Republican primary has become the nominee in the next election cycle, as Republican primary voters respect seniority.
However, McCain may be weaker than prior front-runners. He skipped the first primary in Iowa in 2000 because he is weak there, and only did well in New Hampshire based on strong independent support. Those independents may flock to a more interesting Democratic primary in 2008. McCain is likely to be weak again in the following primary in South Carolina, where independents are not allowed to vote in the 2008 Republican Primary.
McCain is currently the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona. He was a prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam and acquired wealth through his second marriage. He has curried favor with the media as an alternative to more conservative Republicans.
Notably, if McCain were to win the presidency in 2008, he would be the only President to be born on soil the United States has since relinquished to another government (the Panama Canal Zone). While this is a potential problem under a strict reading of Article II of the Constitution, McCain has spent very little time in the Zone and it is unthinkable that any residual attachment to "native soil" could override his loyalty to this country. Also, residency or region is probably not taken seriously as an obstacle to Presidential candidacies in this day and age -- see the article on Dick Cheney.
McCain's political record has been generally conservative, but he has alienated some conservatives on several important issues:
1. Immigration. In 2005-2006, McCain joined with liberal Senator Ted Kennedy to support a sweeping bill that reformed the tangled mass of immigration law, but in some ways was was favorable to illegal aliens. It has not passed.
2. Same-sex marriage. In 2006, McCain joined Democrats and liberal Republicans in voting against the Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment to forbid non-traditional marriage. Later, on Hardball, McCain took a Libertarian position, "On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe that people want to have private ceremonies, that's fine." McCain's home state of Arizona was the only state to defeat a marriage referendum (in 2006), as McCain did nothing to support it.
3. "Gang of 14". On May 23, 2005, McCain was part of a group of 14 Senators who blocked the planned "nuclear option" for confirming blocked Republican nominees for the bench. Under this compromise a few judicial nominees were allowed to be confirmed (Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen and William Pryor), but others (e.g., Henry Saad) remained blocked and had to withdraw.
4. Campaign finance. McCain advocated campaign finance reform, something opposed by many conservative on Libertarian grounds that it interferes with the right to free speech. In 2002, McCain joined with liberal Democrat Russell Feingold to prohibit independent groups from advertising about a candidate within many weeks of an election. This law prohibits ads that do not even recommend for whom to vote, but merely urge people to contact their representatives concerning a vote that the representatives will make in Congress. A court recently declared this unconstitutional. Further, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law allows Indian nations (which get nearly all their money from unregulated casinos) to make unlimited political donations, even though political donations by American citizens are strictly limited and political spending by corporations is prohibited.
5. Torture. McCain opposed renewal of the Patriot act on the grounds that it endorses use of torture, something which he opposes based on his experience as a POW in Vietnam. While he eventually removed his opposition to the renewal of the act, he added language to the renewal act prohibiting torture, despite threat of a presidential veto if such language was added.This is consistent with over two hundred years of civilization since the Enlightenment. This position alienates many conservatives, who believe that torture is a tool that can and should be used against terrorists.
6. Tax cuts. McCain opposed President George W. Bush's tax cuts, on the argument that cutting taxes without also cutting spending was not actually a tax cut, but was a tax on future generations.
7. Criticism of the religious right. In his unsuccessful campaign in 2000, McCain criticized elements of the religious right in an attempt to attract voters.
8. Embryonic stem cell research. McCain supports embryonic stem cell research as a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership.
9. John McCain, like Gary Hart and John Tower before him, is at the complete mercy of the media. The media could destroy McCain's public reputation based on his role in the Keating Five scandal, and the media can be expected to do so in a general election.
10. An intangible, but a very important one, is the issue of trust. Many people, particularly evangelicals, do not trust McCain. That can be an insurmountable problem for a presidential candidate. However, recently, McCain has attempted to reach out to evangelical leaders to regain their trust. An example was his recent speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
11. In a general election, the media and the Democrats will likely make an issue about John McCain's health. He has suffered from recurring cancer (melanoma) and will be 72 years old on Election Day. Critics may view McCain as an easy Republican to defeat in a general election for this reason.