McCain Talks About Ayers [Byron York]
From McCain's interview with ABC's Charles Gibson, airing tonight:
GIBSON: Does this almost monolithic focus on the economy in the news and in people's minds in recent weeks ...
MCCAIN: I totally understand it.
GIBSON: Hurt your campaign?
MCCAIN: I don't know, Charlie. I think by offering wise solutions and providing mature leadership that it'll redound in my behalf. Look, in my favor. But this is a tough campaign. I'm the underdog. I've always been the underdog from the beginning. I was the underdog in the primaries.
I can remember when you and I were in a debate and I was down at the end. And you were down at the end by precedence of how people thought you were standing. So we're going to be OK. And we're going to be fine.
GIBSON: But you were sort of humming along there in the polls for a while, and then this issue sort of pervaded everything. And it's not, it seems to have coincided with the drop.
MCCAIN: I'm not going to complain about the hand I'm dealt, my friend. We're coming up with solutions. We're trying to give the vision and leadership for the American people. And I'll accept their judgment.
GIBSON: Why then in recent days have you focused so in what you've had to say on Sen. Obama's character, talked about the fact that we don't know him, that he's come out of nowhere, that he's not an open book, etc.
MCCAIN: Well, I'm not sure that's character. What I think it is, is does he have the experience and the knowledge and judgment and has he made the right decisions and has he told — been candid with the American people. I think that's important.
They certainly know me.
GIBSON: You don't think he's been thoroughly vetted, having gone through all the primaries and all the campaigning, running for president as long as you have? Two years?
MCCAIN: No, actually I don't. In fact, Sen. Clinton in their debates said that the American people didn't know enough about him, including his relationship with Mr. [William] Ayers. That's what she said. And I agree with that. He said he was a guy in the neighborhood. We know that's not true. He said — he wrote down a piece of paper that he would take public financing for his presidential campaign if I would. He betrayed the trust of the American people there.
He looked in the camera twice during the debate with Sen. Clinton and said, "I will sit down and negotiate with John McCain before I decide to forgo public financing for my campaign." He never called me. He looked in the camera and told the American people something that was patently false. He told the American people about his relationship with Mr. Ayers, that he was a guy in the neighborhood.
He wasn't a guy in the neighborhood. He launched his political career in his living room, in Mr. Ayers' living room. And I don't care about two washed-up old terrorists that are unrepentant about trying to destroy America. But I do care, and Americans should care, about his relationship with him and whether he's being truthful and candid about it.
GIBSON: Do you think his character or lack of candor disqualifies him to be president of the United States?
MCCAIN: I'll leave that up to the American people. But I have every right to insist that he be candid and truthful with the American people. And he needs to be asked about it, and he needs to be forthcoming.
GIBSON: You didn't raise that, this argument, this argument, or line of argument, at the debate the other night. And I asked Sen. Obama about that yesterday. He said yeah, I'm surprised that John didn't say that to my face.
MCCAIN: Again, two things I've never been accused of lacking. And one is passion, and the other is courage. I mean, I can accept a lot of the other criticisms. It didn't come up in the flow of the conversation. But it did come up, and I pointed out that he asked for $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in his hometown of Chicago.
And coincidentally the guy who was the chairman of that organization pledged to raise $200,000 for his campaign. His record is replete of requests for pork barrel, unnecessary, wasteful spending. And I'll let the American people make a judgment there.
GIBSON: Do you think the relationship with Ayers is a critical issue in this campaign or factor in this campaign?
MCCAIN: I think it's a factor about Sen. Obama's candor and truthfulness with the American people. That's what I think it's about. As I say, I don't care about Mr. Ayers who on Sept. 11, 2001 said he wished he'd have bombed more. I don't care about that. I care about him being truthful about his relationship with him. And Americans will care.
GIBSON: And you're comfortable that this should be a focus in the last days of the campaign?
MCCAIN: I think it's something that needs to be examined. Sen. Clinton said it should be examined during their primary and never was.