Share this story...
Latest News

A look back on John McCain’s presidential campaign history

(Photo: River Bissonnette via Wikimedia Commons)

PHOENIX — On Saturday, U.S. Sen. John McCain passed away at the age of 81.

McCain served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and twice tried to reach for higher office.

He was first elected to Congress from Arizona’s 1st congressional district in 1982. After serving one term, he won his first of six terms in the Senate in 1986. He would remain in that chamber for the rest of his life.

McCain ran for president twice, once in 2000 and again in 2008. McCain lost the Republican race to George W. Bush in 2000, and in 2008 he lost the general election to Barack Obama.


2000 presidential run

McCain’s 2000 presidential run began in September 1999, when he officially announced his campaign.

His name was floated as a possible candidate for the GOP nomination starting in 1997, but McCain initially decided to concentrate on his 1998 re-election to the U.S. Senate.

In his 2002 book, Worth the Fighting For, McCain wrote that he had a “vague aspiration” of running for president.

“I didn’t decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political reforms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism.

“In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to become president. I was 62 years old when I made the decision and I thought it was my one shot at the prize.”

One of the potential weaknesses that was identified of McCain’s candidacy was his “maverick” persona and tendency to stray from the Republican Party’s core.

At the time that McCain announced his presidential campaign, he had been serving in the Senate for 13 years following a four-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McCain initially planned to start campaigning in April 1999, but decided to postpone his announcement after three American soldiers were captured by Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War.

McCain announced his campaign at an event in Nashua, New Hampshire, saying it was the “beginning of the end of the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.”

However, McCain was not very popular in his home state.

The Arizona governor at the time, Jane Dee Hull, endorsed George W. Bush and continued to smear his reputation during the campaign, talking to high-profile newspapers such as The Arizona Republic and New York Times about his “flaring” temper.

Despite the lack of support from Arizona officials, a lack of campaign funding and a crowded Republican primary race, McCain ended up taking 31 percent of the vote in the primary election and won seven key primaries.

However, McCain withdrew from the race in March 2000 due to the large gap in delegates between him and Bush. He endorsed Bush two months later and campaigned for him multiple times.

McCain returned to the Senate, where he would remain for the rest of his career.

2008 presidential run

McCain decided to give a run for president another go in the 2008 election.

This time, the Arizona senator informally announced his campaign during a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman in February 2007 before making a formal announcement in April of that year.

McCain’s long Congressional history and previous run for president made him a much more favorable and recognizable candidate this time around.

A poll from Time magazine showed that Americans were more familiar with McCain than any other frontrunner at the time, including then-Sen. Barack Obama.

The 2008 presidential election involved a surge of social media for the first time. McCain’s campaign created Facebook and MySpace pages to get their message across to a younger generation, as well as started a YouTube channel.

McCain even made multiple appearances on “Saturday Night Live” during his campaign, poking jabs at his campaign funding, his age and his vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin.

McCain won the majority of delegates in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries in February 2008, eventually clinching the Republican presidential nomination on March 4, 2008.

Shortly after picking up a wave of delegates and newfound support nationwide on Super Tuesday, New York Times published a story detailing a close relationship between McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman during his 2000 run for president.

The story did not make any allegations that the pair were romantic in anyway — both McCain and Iseman said their relationship was platonic — but that his advisers felt their relationship could ruin his political identity.

Iseman later filed a $27 million defamation lawsuit against the newspaper, claiming it “falsely communicated an illicit romantic relationship” between her and McCain. 

The lawsuit was settled in 2009 with no exchange of money. The paper later issued a correction saying it did not “intend to conclude that Iseman had engaged in a romantic affair with McCain or an unethical relationship on behalf of her clients in breach of the public trust.”

McCain continued to build his campaign, running on issues including national security, education reform, energy independence and tax cuts. He later gained the endorsement of Bush, chose Palin as his runningmate and debated with Obama multiple times.

The general election took place on Nov. 4. McCain won 173 electoral college votes, losing key battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and won just 46 percent of the popular vote.

McCain delivered his concession speech at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, pointing to the “special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”

Show Podcasts and Interviews

Reporter Stories