MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AFP) – Vietnam veteran, who triumphed in Tuesday’s Republican primaries, was a proven survivor long before he entered the cut-throat world of politics.
Shot down as a naval aviator overin 1967, McCain spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, including two years in solitary confinement in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
Polls show that while McCain has never led among the Republican field nationally, voters see him as the Republican presidential candidate most capable of defeating a Democratic rival to win thein 2008.
The 71-year-old was leading in the vote for the Republican nomination, on 37 percent, with 91 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, with former Massachusettssecond on 32 percent.
“My friends, you know, I’m past the age when I can claim the noun ‘kid,’ no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like,” McCain told his cheering supporters.
“Tonight we have taken a step, but only the first step toward repairing the broken politics of the past and restoring the trust of the American people in their government,” he said, to chants from the crowd of “The Mac Is Back!”
But McCain knows from bitter experience that the game is not over yet as he chases the Republican nomination to stand in the elections and succeed.
In 2000, he was poised for victory, having won over Republicans here only to fall at the next hurdle to Bush in, crashing out of the race.
This time, McCain has already been forced to strip back his campaign after he was left trailing in the summer in the crucial fund-raising battle.
But he won an important boost inlast week, coming in third even though he had not campaigned heavily in the state, which helped re-energize his campaign and propel him to first place in .
Perhaps the biggest handicap he now faces is his age. If he wins the election, he would become the nation’s oldest ever president, entering the White House in January 2009 at the age of 72.
John Sidney McCain was born August 29, 1936 in the— formerly under US jurisdiction — and was raised moving from one military post to another.
Both his grandfather and father were naval officers, so it was no surprise that at 17 he enrolled in the naval academy.
The brutal treatment he suffered as a prisoner of war — his injuries from being tortured still prevent him from raising his arms high enough to comb his hair — marked him for life.
His wartime experiences forged a man of unshakeable convictions, who remains a maverick at heart, criticized at times for a quick temper and a tendency to make unfortunate, off-the-cuff remarks.
“I didn’t go to Washington … to get along or to play it safe to serve my own interests,” he said in his speech Tuesday evening. “I went there to serve my country.”
“I learned long ago that serving only one’s self is a petty and unsatisfying ambition,” added McCain, who won his first race for the House of Representatives in 1982 and captured a Senate seat in 1986.
Despite his long-term loyalty to Bush, McCain was one of the first Republicans to attack the White House policy on Iraq, saying not enough troops had been committed to the 2003 invasion.
And despite the wave of anger at the war here, he was one of the first to call for more troops to be deployed there.
He is also one of the rare Republicans to favor reforming the immigration system, and for years has campaigned for fiscal reform and spoken out on global warming.
He is fiercely opposed to any use of torture by the United States in its “war on terror.” But in many other areas, he remains a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, opposing abortion, gay marriage andlaws.
In his 1999 autobiography “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain listed what he considers the three greatest mistakes in his life: a forced confession under torture when he was a prisoner, his role in a banking scandal and his infidelity in his marriage to his first wife.
She was disabled in a car accident and McCain admits that his “wandering” led to their divorce. He re-married in 1980 and now has seven sons.