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Fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and Campaign Manager Terry Nelson Discuss McCain

September 2, 2008 at 8:00 PM EST
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Sen. John McCain's colleague from Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl, and former campaign manager Terry Nelson provide insight on the candidate and the campaign.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: I’m joined by McCain’s fellow Arizona senator, Jon Kyl, and Terry Nelson. He served as McCain’s campaign manager until July of last year.

Senator Kyl, after all the time that Senator McCain, your seatmate, has spent in the public eye all these years, what new is there that this convention can tell people about him?

SEN. JON KYL (R), Arizona: Well, first of all, not everybody pays as much attention to politics as we do. And I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there, a lot of new voters, for example, who are going to be focusing for the first time really intently on who the candidates are.

So there is some acquainting to be done there and some re-acquainting. I’m told by political advisers that it takes six times for someone to see a political ad for it to really sink it. So repetition is not a bad thing, even for those who do know a lot about John McCain’s tremendously interesting life and his service to his country.

GWEN IFILL: Terry Nelson, what you would say that this convention needs to accomplish and introducing, reintroducing John McCain?

TERRY NELSON, Former McCain Campaign Manager: Well, it is a great story. And, you know, the truth is that this is a point when the American people begin to, you know, look at the campaigns and really pay attention.

We saw that last week with Barack Obama; 38 million people tuned in to listen to his speech. You know, a similar number will probably tune in to see Senator McCain and his speech, will tune in tonight at this convention to listen to it.

And as Senator Kyl says, there’s a lot of people who for the first time will really begin to look and try to begin to decide, you know, who they’re going to support in this campaign.

GWEN IFILL: So you have a chance now to tell those people your version of the answer to some of these questions. And there’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there about Senator McCain, and I just want to tick off some of it. One is that he is a maverick. Has he been a maverick in his years in the Senate, really?

SEN. JON KYL: He sure has.

GWEN IFILL: Is the Senate a place — is the Senate a place that rewards mavericks?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, in a sense it does. For example, we’ve changed the way we do business with appropriation bills. John McCain used to just bring the entire Senate to a halt on the night that they bring the big appropriation bill through everybody who was expecting it just to go through. Nobody had read it, and John McCain — and under Senate rules, you can do this — said, “Stop. Until I have a chance to read it, and see what’s in it, and object to any pork projects, we’re not going forward.”

Well, now they know that he will do that, so they simply make sure they’re done about 48 hours in advance. They give it to John McCain’s staff so that they can go through it.

The point is a maverick can make a difference as a senator, but he can make a lot more difference as president. And when he says, “I can’t wait to veto some of these pork-barrel bills,” I know he means it. He really wants to reform. And I know, too, that he sees in Governor Palin a soul mate, as he put it, in trying to achieve this reform.

GWEN IFILL: Terry Nelson, another piece of conventional wisdom about John McCain is that he is temperamental. Now, as someone who used to work for him, perhaps you could fill us in on that?

TERRY NELSON: I never found John McCain to be all that temperamental. You know, before I went to work for John McCain, I heard the rumors that he was temperamental, as well, and talked to his staff.

You know, John McCain has some of the longest-serving staff people in the Congress that are with him. And he’s great with his staff people. And, you know, like anybody, he likes to debate the issues. He wants to have a thorough discussion, and he expects the people around him to know the answers.

You know, ultimately, he’s held accountable for what he does. So I always found him to be somebody who is lively and wanted to debate the issues, but not temperamental, not ever with staff.

GWEN IFILL: Another piece of conventional wisdom is that he is a darling of the press, which doesn’t seem so lately. Has that been true?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, I think it was in his first campaign, when he was running the Straight-Talk Express and was the maverick, and he used to kid about his main constituency, the media. Not so much this campaign, as you’ve noted.

GWEN IFILL: I think he said it was his base.

SEN. JON KYL: Or his base, maybe, right. But I think one reason that the media, love him or hate him, appreciates John McCain and finds him an interesting individual to cover is because he is different from the usual politician. He is a maverick.

You don’t know exactly what he’s going to say next. He’s not that programmed. And he tells you what’s on his mind, and frequently that’s very interesting.

GWEN IFILL: You know, one of the things we’ve all been talking about on this program and everywhere, of course, is the Sarah Palin pick. How in the end do you think this will play out? Will it help him or hurt him, and in which ways?

TERRY NELSON: Well, I think Sarah Palin does need to come in and give a good speech tomorrow night, and I think she will. I mean, she’s — she’s a very dynamic speaker. She’s very articulate.

You know, for the attention on some of the personal things, I don’t think that really matters to voters, and I don’t think there should be all that much attention to it.

Sarah Palin has done a great job as governor. She reaches back, you know, to the reformist image, the maverick image that John McCain has, and helps him, you know, bring that message back into the campaign.

And I don’t think that there’s been enough focus on that side of this election. The American people think Washington does need to be shaken up, and John McCain has put himself in a position to do that.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Jon Kyl, Terry Nelson, former campaign manager, thank you both very much.