John McCain’s views on the big issues are well-documented. Not as well-known are the Republican presidential hopeful's opinions on popular issues of the day like Barry Bonds' record, Don Imus's fall from grace and what his kids are up to on the Internet.
Taking a page from McCain’s new book, “Hard Calls: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them,” TODAY co-host Matt Lauer asked the U.S. senator from Arizona to make some of those calls himself.
The first question was whether there should be an asterisk after Barry Bonds’ all-time home run record because of the allegations that he’s used performance-enhancing drugs.
“As a baseball fan, yes,” McCain told Lauer during the exclusive interview. “It’s sort of inappropriate for me, but in my personal opinion as a lifelong baseball fan, an asterisk.”
Next up was a hypothetical question: If McCain were out of politics and bought a radio station, would he give Don Imus, the shock jock who lost his job because of disparaging comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, a show?
“I’d give him a chance,” said McCain, warming to the challenging questions. “I believe in redemption. I believe that people make mistakes in life.”
McCain has seven children, including adopted daughter Bridget, 16. Lauer asked what he would do if he went into her room and she had left her diary out and open or her Facebook page open on her computer. Would he read them?
“Sure,” he said without hesitation. “I would and I’d tell her I read it. Parents should know what our children are doing. We tell our children that. We need to know as parents what our children are doing."
Lagging in polls
The offbeat questions may have come as a bit of a break for the beleaguered candidate.
McCain’s presidential campaign has been in trouble. Once a front-runner, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll had him tied for fourth with Mike Huckabee among the eight Republican candidates, favored by just eight percent of potential voters. Mitt Romney led the poll with a 26 percent rating, followed by Rudy Giuliani with 14 percent and Fred Thompson with 13 percent.
The campaign has been hamstrung by a lack of money and the defection of key advisers and managers. McCain has taken to flying commercial flights and carrying his own luggage as he has attempted to kick-start the campaign.
“We made a mistake and those things happen,” he said, vowing to continue the fight. “There’s ups and downs in campaigns. We misjudged some of the budgetary aspects of it, and we fixed it and we’re fine.”
He is bypassing the upcoming Iowa straw polls, which some say is because a poor showing there could signal the death of his candidacy.
“We had never planned on the Iowa straw poll,” he countered. “We don’t do straw polls. In all due respect, they’re great fundraisers for the party, but they’re not really that important. I’d rather spend my time campaigning.”
McCain’s been a staunch defender of President Bush’s troop surge strategy in Iraq at a time when public sentiment is overwhelmingly for getting the troops out. Regardless of what happens in his campaign, the senator said he’ll be in Washington in September, when reports on the effectiveness of the surge are due to be released, to lead the fight to continue the battle.
“We are winning,” he said. “The strategy is succeeding. It’s only been in place for a short time. I believe that we can prevail in Congress."
“This will be a seminal historic moment in the history of this country," he added. "The battleground will be on the floor of the Senate. I will be there leading, because that’s my job. I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic.”
Evoking Mark Twain, he told Lauer, reports of his political death are greatly exaggerated.
“I’m in the arena,” he insisted. “Over time, I believe people will judge me for what my vision of the country is and my record.”