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McCain Stands On the Other End Of a Press Grilling

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2008

PAGE SPRINGS, Ariz., March 2 -- If he loses the presidency, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will have a career as a barbecue chef to fall back on.

At his weekend cabin just outside Sedona on Sunday afternoon, McCain took a break from campaigning and grilled ribs and chicken for three dozen reporters, some staff members and a few Republican friends from the Senate.

Dressed in jeans, an L.L. Bean baseball cap, sunglasses and a sweat shirt featuring a picture of his family, McCain held court the way he does almost daily aboard his "Straight Talk Express" bus.

While the afternoon barbecue for the media was technically on the record, tape recorders were prohibited, as was taking pictures for publication, and McCain aides repeatedly urged reporters to put away the notebooks.

The idea, McCain said, was to allow reporters to get to know him and his staff under less stressful circumstances. (The fact that the media spent the weekend at a resort called Enchantment probably contributed to that feeling.) In addition to the press, Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), McCain's best friend in the Senate, was there, as was former senator Phil Gramm (Tex.), Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Charlie Black, McCain's top political adviser.

McCain offered a tour of the property, which if he is elected will no doubt become the latest incarnation of the "Western White House," the equivalent of Ronald Reagan's Santa Barbara ranch, President Bush's place in Crawford or the first President Bush's Maine retreat. Bill Clinton didn't have a property like that, but managed to vacation frequently at the Vineyard with friends.

McCain's aides said the three-hour gathering was intended as a "social event," not a glorified news conference. And by and large, reporters agreed to those rules, asking him substantive questions only a few times.

The lighthearted mood is likely to fade quickly if he gets enough delegates to lay claim to his party's nomination in contests in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday. As the nominee, he will almost certainly be on, rather than overseeing, the grill.

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