Cal  Thomas

"Are folks aware of just how meticulously (Sen. John) McCain and his team are going about building their '08 campaign? There's probably not a GOP activist in South Carolina who hasn't been contacted at least once by someone supportive of McCain's candidacy. ... As long as he continues to poll well against Hillary, and as long as the Republicans look as if they could lose power at a moment's notice, McCain should be able to create the air of inevitability that Bush created in 2000." - Hotline editor Chuck Todd in National Journal.

Officially, he is not yet running and won't make up his mind until after the fall elections, but in an interview in his Senate office (March 2), McCain sounds as if an announcement of his candidacy is merely a formality.

He calls his 2000 campaign "the most exhilarating period of my life." He repeats the phrase for emphasis.

McCain has sometimes publicly disagreed with President Bush on certain issues, but about the president's handling of the war on terror since 9/11, McCain offers generous praise: "The war on terror is what re-elected President Bush. We were able to frame the debate in that (2004) campaign ... that President Bush was by far the most qualified guy. By the way, I believe that to this day with my heart and soul."

What may attract Republicans who believe President Bush is not a true conservative is McCain's willingness to oppose the president on more spending and bigger government, along with McCain's language on the consequences of illegal immigration. During our interview, McCain tells me: "The director of the FBI has stated 'there are more people from countries of interest coming across our border.' So there is no doubt the threat (from infiltration of radical Muslims) has increased. That's why immigration reform - of which border enforcement is a part - must be a prime issue."

McCain believes the issue of a United Arab Emirates company managing U.S. ports, while important, should not be our highest priority: "If something were to happen at a U.S. port, it isn't the port that will be the problem, but the port where (the cargo) originated, or where it passes through. I believe the war in Iraq is of transcendent importance. Same with Iranian nuclear weapons. So is continued infiltration of al-Qaida back into Afghanistan."

McCain says that while he has a good handle on foreign policy, he intends to learn more on domestic issues, including economics, tax policy and health care: "I'm going to have to be smarter on some issues than I am now."

Cal Thomas

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Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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