CNN correspondent Dana Bash, during an interview of Senator John McCain which aired on Tuesday’s "The Situation Room," raised the issue of whether the Republican presidential candidate felt voters’ pain on the economy. "[I]n this time of uncertainty, when there are so many people hurting, are you concerned that there are voters out there who hear that who say, John McCain is heartless when it comes to this issue?" The thought that McCain might be "heartless" was reenforced by inclusion of the chyron, "McCain & Voters’ Pain: Against Big Economic Bailouts." [Audio available here.]
Following her "heartless" question on the economy, Bash followed up by asking a particularly blunt question about whether the current economy would hurt him if it continued into the time immediately before the election. "If the headlines that are on the front page of the newspapers today are the same headlines on the front pages in late October, early November, does John McCain lose?"
Bash, who is following the Arizona senator during his bus tour to key sites from his past, also pressed McCain on the issue of his age, asking him three questions on the issue. "[I]n terms of your approach, do you, in all candor -- straight talk -- think about your age when you -- and the fact that you are 71 -- will be 72 when you are deciding who would be a potential president?"
Bash’s questions on McCain’s age were based on a recent Wall Street Journal poll that found that voters are more likely to vote for a woman or a black person than a person over 70, and on a self-deprecating remark he made that the role of a Vice President to check on the health of a President "would be especially important" in his case. Bash tried to take the remark more seriously. "[Y]ou say that there are two real roles for the Vice President, and one is to check on the health of the president. And you joked a couple of weeks ago in Pennsylvania that that would be especially important in your case.... What did you mean by that?"
Even though McCain responded that he "will continue to use humor, and if any commentator chooses to take a humorous remark and turn it into something serious, they are free to do that," Bash still pressed him on the age issue. "But it -- but, understanding that completely, in all seriousness, when you're approaching who you're picking for the Vice President, do you think about your age as a factor?"
The full transcript of the interview, which aired 15 minutes into the 5 pm Eastern hour of Tuesday’s "The Situation Room:"
JOHN KING: Now, does John McCain feel voters' pains when it comes to the economy? The Republican candidate on what his campaign calls its biography tour. He visited his old high school in northern Virginia today. CNN's Dana Bash accompanied the senator and sat down with him for a one-on-one interview.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, thank you for sitting down with us.
MCCAIN: Thanks, Dana.
BASH: The first question is about the issue that Americans do seem to care about the most -- and that's the economy. You've been very clear that because of your principle and because of your Republican philosophy, that you think that the government really should be limited and really should stay out, for the most part, of bailing out both homeowners and what you call irresponsible lenders. But my question is, in this time of uncertainty, when there are so many people hurting, are you concerned that there are voters out there who hear that who say, John McCain is heartless when it comes to this issue?
MCCAIN: Well, actually, I think the government should facilitate a lot of things, and there have been numerous proposals, many of which I have supported and some that I will be coming forward with. What we really need to do is -- fundamentally -- is make sure that we take every action to have the lender and the borrower sit down together so that the millions of Americans who are facing terrible challenges will be able to afford to keep their home.
We don't want greedy speculators, obviously, to profit. We don't want unscrupulous lenders to gain from this and spend taxpayers' dollars on it. But we should devote all our efforts -- and I will be, as I say, encouraging and trying to provide ways for incentivizing that process to happen and, if necessary, give the homeowners who are sitting around the kitchen table today saying, well, I have to get another job, will we stay in our home -- be able to do that. That does mean government helps out. What I worry about, of course, are massive bailouts that will then reward people who didn't behave well. But my efforts and my proposals will to be help that homeowner who is now experiencing a great trauma of losing the American dream.
BASH: If the headlines that are on the front page of the newspapers today are the same headlines on the front pages in late October, early November, does John McCain lose?
MCCAIN: I have no idea. I think that John McCain's experience, knowledge, background, and judgment on both national security and economic issues -- I've been involved in economic issues for the last 20 some years. I was chairman of the Commerce Committee that oversights all sectors, practically, of our economy. So I'm strong on the economy. I'm strong on national security. And the important thing will be my envision -- my vision for the future of this country.
BASH: You're on this bio tour, this service tour that you're on. You're talking, obviously, a lot about your past and your experience. But by talking about the fact that you remember vividly -- at least your first vivid memory was the beginning of World War II, you're also maybe subtly reminding voters of your age. And I want to just read you some numbers from a recent 'Wall Street Journal' poll. Sixty-one percent said that they would elect somebody over 70, but 71 percent said they would elect a woman and 72 percent said a black. So it looks like voters are much more eager -- or at least able to elect a black or a woman than somebody of your age.
MCCAIN: Well, that's interesting, because we are either tied or slightly ahead of both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. So overall in the polls, I'm very satisfied, where we are, particularly since the generic ballot has Republicans trailing Democrats rather badly. So I'm very happy with where we are. And I'm very happy...
BASH: Specifically on the age issue...
MCCAIN: ...to talk about the past and my values. But all of that is a prelude to the future. If you have experience and knowledge and background and judgment, that's what -- and vision for the future -- that's what the American people will, I believe, the factor that will decide whether they support me or not, and I'm very confident.
BASH: One more question on this. You, when you're asked about who your vice president would be, you say that there are two real roles for the Vice President, and one is to check on the health of the president. And you joked a couple of weeks ago in Pennsylvania that that would be especially important in your case.
BASH: What did you mean by that? And I know you don't want to talk about the process of picking a Vice President, but in terms of your approach, do you, in all candor -- straight talk -- think about your age when you -- and the fact that you are 71 -- will be 72 when you are deciding who would be a potential president?
MCCAIN: No. And in all candor, I will continue to use humor, and if any commentator chooses to take a humorous remark and turn it into something serious, they are free to do that. But I will continue to use humor, and I think the American people like to have a little humor from time to time.
MCCAIN: And that was what that whole line was about.
BASH: Absolutely. But it -- but, understanding that completely, in all seriousness, when you're approaching who you're picking for the Vice President, do you think about your age as a factor? And --
MCCAIN: Not particularly, no. I think -- I think about whether that person who I select would be most prepared to take my place, and that would be the key criteria.
KING: Senator John McCain earlier today.