For McCain, a Second Try at the White House

With his wife, Cindy, behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shakes hands with supporters after announcing his candidacy in Portsmouth, N.H.
With his wife, Cindy, behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) shakes hands with supporters after announcing his candidacy in Portsmouth, N.H. (By Stephan Savoia -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2007

PORTSMOUTH, N.H., April 25 -- Republican Sen. John McCain distanced himself from President Bush on a pair of key issues Wednesday as he launched his second campaign for the White House, calling on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign and offering fresh criticism of the administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

After months of wooing Bush's allies to his campaign and serving as one of the most outspoken supporters of U.S. efforts in Iraq, McCain (Ariz.) used his announcement to draw distinctions from the Bush administration on the Iraq war, saying the United States "must never repeat" the mistakes made in the conflict.

And, in sharp contrast to the more conservative rhetoric he has favored recently, McCain called for a new spirit of "common sense" and bipartisanship to solve the nation's biggest challenges.

But it was later in the day that he made his sharpest departure from the White House, telling CNN's Larry King that Gonzales should go.

"I am very disappointed in his performance," McCain said when asked about the attorney general. "I think loyalty to the president should enter into his calculations." Prodded by King on whether Gonzales should resign, McCain responded: "I think that out of loyalty to the president that that would probably be the best thing that he could do."

McCain became the fourth Republican senator to ask for Gonzales's resignation, joining Tom Coburn (Okla.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John E. Sununu (N.H.). Many others have stopped short of demanding Gonzales's resignation but have said he is a liability to the administration, including Arlen Specter (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Asked about McCain's comments this evening, White House spokesman Tony Fratto reiterated the president's support for Gonzales. "Alberto Gonzalez is an effective attorney general and continues to have the president's full confidence," he said. "Under his leadership, the Justice Department has been very effective, keeping America safe, and we expect that to continue."

The decision to part ways with the White House on Gonzales took some of the focus away from McCain's announcement, even as, in a coincidence, the Supreme Court was hearing a challenge to the landmark campaign finance law bearing his name in Washington. In a conversation with reporters after his announcement but before the interview with King aired, McCain hinted that he might be pondering another break from Bush in the near future. When asked whether Gonzales should resign, he told reporters to ask again the next day because he didn't want to "step on today's story."

Dressed in a dark blue sweater under cloudy skies on the banks of the Piscataqua River, McCain kicked off his bid for the Republican nomination by saying he alone possesses the experience, maturity and seriousness to be president in a time of war and domestic uncertainty.

"Americans are acutely aware of our problems, and their patience is at an end for politicians who value incumbency over principle and for partisanship that is less a contest of ideas than an uncivil brawl over the spoils of power," McCain told hundreds gathered in Prescott Park. "I want my presidency to be an opportunity -- an opportunity to fix what we all know needs to be fixed."

McCain is hoping the announcement tour that began with two appearances in New Hampshire -- the home of the nation's first primary -- and continues through South Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Arizona will invigorate a campaign that has been struggling since it began. He raised almost $13 million in the first quarter of the year, which would have seemed princely four years ago but trailed the money raised by top presidential contenders from both parties this time.

His attempts to create a sense of inevitability around his campaign have been derailed by former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who leads the GOP field in most national polls.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company