"I'm as old as dirt, and I have more scars than Frankenstein." Senator John McCain trots out this self-deprecating assessment with relative frequency on the campaign trail, often eliciting chuckles from his audience. It's a politically deft maneuver; he makes light of his age, as Reagan famously did, while reminding voters of the great physical sacrifice he endured for our nation. It also helps to illustrate his surprising appeal to younger voters.
Despite being far and away the oldest presidential candidate in the 2008 race at 71, McCain wields a fair amount of credibility with young Americans. He has attracted the Me-generation's attention by showing a willingness to meet them on their turf in order to earn their respect. McCain will never be the youthful beacon of "hope" and "change" that Barack Obama has fashioned himself to be, but he may give the Democrats a run for their money with the youth vote.
In August, with his campaign sputtering, McCain made his tenth appearance on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, a college dorm television staple and notorious snake pit for conservatives. McCain has repeatedly stepped into the belly of the beast over the years and often emerges relatively unscathed. On more than one occasion, he's appeared to leave the hostile studio audience befuddled—"Why are we applauding this man? He just effectively defended the illegal, immoral war in Iraq!"
Perhaps McCain's most impressive interaction with younger voters was his December 3rd appearance in an MTV/Myspace presidential dialogue. McCain fielded a laundry list of live questions from students at Southern New Hampshire University, in addition to real-time queries sent via instant message and online videos. During his answers, the senior Senator from Arizona made no apologies for his pro-life voting record, and vigorously defended the war in Iraq.
"I can tell you that this new strategy is succeeding," he said in response to a question about the Iraq war. "They're not fighting over there for oil, they aren't fighting for empire, and they aren't fighting illegally. They're fighting because they want America to be safe." Many of the students applauded.