How John McCain Worked

John McCain
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) looks on after a meeting with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace March 21, 2008 in Paris. Dominique Charriau/Getty Images

On Oct. 26, 1967, naval pilot John McCain was shot down over Vietnam and was held captive in the Hanoi Hilton. When he was released six years later, he returned to the U.S. and regained his active flight status. He retired from the Navy in 1981 [source: John McCain].

McCain's military experience played a big part in his campaign for president in 2008. It gave him an argument to become commander-in-chief. His military background also appeared to give him the kind of dogged persistence needed during a primary season that defied polls and proved to be the most expensive at the time. Although he lost to Barack Obama, he still maintained his moral authority. During the presidential election when a supporter said Obama was "an Arab," and therefore could not be trusted, McCain responded: "No ma'am, he's a decent family man, citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about" [source: Collinson].


McCain's willingness to shake hands with the Democrats and occasionally vote against party lines earned him the titles of "consensus-builder" (the Everett Herald), "straight-shooter" (The Guardian), "maverick" (the Los Angeles Times) and "traitor to the Republican Party" (the Southern Political Report), among others.

It also makes it difficult to paint McCain with a single brush. He was the only candidate to have engaged in a publicity battle with heiress and socialite Paris Hilton [source: AP]. At a time when even some of his fellow Republicans lost their faith in the war in Iraq, McCain maintained his original stance in favor of it. While he openly opposed to the use of gray-area torture, like water boarding, he also voted against a ban on its use, citing the CIA need for its use in interrogation [source: IHT]. On the topic of Iran, he spoofed the lyrics of the Beach Boys song, "Barbara Ann" with his own version -- "bomb Iran."

McCain died at age 81 on Aug. 25, 2018, after a battle with brain cancer. In this article, we'll learn more about Sen. John S. McCain, his record on the issues, his run for presidency and his later life.


Biography of John McCain

McCain after his release in Vietnam.
Lt. Cmdr. John McCain is led to a waiting transport plane after his release from the "Hanoi Hilton" in March 1973.
Getty Images

John Sidney McCain III was born in 1936 on an Air Force Base in the Canal Zone of Panama in Central America. Both his father and grandfather served in the U.S. Navy as admirals, and McCain began his own military career when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958, though near the bottom of his class [source: Pew Forum]. He became a fighter pilot for the Navy, and during his 23rd mission was shot down over Vietnam. His leg badly broken, he was captured by the North Vietnamese army, an event that "stopped the clock on his life" [source: John McCain].

Lt. Cmdr. McCain spent 1967 to 1973 as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. After he returned to the U.S., he wrote about his experience in the May 14, 1973, issue of U.S. News and World Report. His captors initially refused to treat his badly broken leg, but once they discovered McCain's father was a prominent admiral, his conditions improved. The Vietnamese hoped to gain military information from him: "They told a number of my friends when I was captured, 'We have the crown prince,'" [source: Free Republic].


Twenty-six years later, that same publication reported on a speech McCain gave in Washington, D.C., in March 1999. "As I was laying there in my prison cell in Hanoi having my legs broken by interrogators, one thought and one thought alone kept me going, that someday I would return home and do something about soft money," the candidate joked [source: U.S. News and World Report].

Despite poking fun at his detainment, McCain experienced torture, humiliation and psychological torment at the hands of the North Vietnamese. "I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope," he wrote in the 1973 article [source: Free Republic].

As the war's end approached, McCain and his fellow prisoners were released. McCain remained in the Navy for another eight years, retiring in 1981. His last assignment was as liaison between the Navy and the Senate. By the time he retired, he had been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross [source: John McCain].

McCain met his current wife, Cindy Hensley McCain, at a military reception in Hawaii in 1979. McCain was married at the time to Carol McCain, his wife since 1965, who had suffered a crippling car accident during McCain's tenure as a POW. Once he returned from Vietnam, relations between the couple began to show signs of strain [source: Arizona Republic].

In April 1980, their divorce was finalized. In May 1980, McCain and Cindy Hensley married. The couple had four children, one of whom is adopted. McCain also had three other children from his first marriage: His two eldest sons are from his first wife's first marriage, and McCain adopted them. One daughter, Meghan, created a blog about her life on the presidential campaign trail with her father [source: McCainBlogette]. McCain was author of several books: "Character Is Destiny" (2005); "Hard Call" (2007); "Worth the Fighting For: A Memoir" (2002); "The Reminisces of Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)" (1999); "Why Courage Matters" (2004); "Faith of My Fathers" (1999 and "The Restless Wave" (2018).

He was raised an Episcopalian but since the 1990s attended North Phoenix Baptist Church. McCain said that he's Baptist, not Episcopalian, though he was unbaptized and not born again. He settled the matter by commenting, "The most important thing is I'm a Christian" [sources: Christian Science Monitor, CNN].

McCain said that he concluded during his time at the Hanoi Hilton that one of the most important things a man can do in his life "is to make some contribution to his country."


Political Career of John McCain

McCain's Straight Talk Express
McCain stands before the Straight Talk Express in Phoenix in February 2008. He resurrected the nickname from his 2000 campaign.
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

McCain first found his way to Washington as a Representative for Arizona in 1982. He served in the House from 1983 to 1987, when he ran for and was elected to the Senate. There, he began to make a name for himself as a Republican unwilling to toe the party line. McCain "has never hesitated to go against the grain of party wisdom on subjects ranging from immigration, global warming, gay marriage and campaign funding" [source: The Independent].

Going it alone served him well when he went after campaign finance reform. He and Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold worked jointly for seven years on the bill before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was signed into law in 2002. "Campaign contributions from a single source that run to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars are not healthy for a democracy," McCain said the day the bill was passed by the Senate. "Is that not self-evident?" [source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel].


Twelve years earlier, Sen. McCain found himself embroiled in a campaign finance scandal personally. During McCain's first year in the Senate, he and three Democratic senators intervened on behalf of savings and loan bank owner Charles Keating during an investigation by federal banking regulators. During Congressional hearings, it came to light that Keating had been a fundraiser for the four senators ($300,000 in total; $112,000 for McCain). The investigating committee exonerated McCain, finding him guilty only of "poor judgment" [source: Slate].

McCain generally enjoyed his state's perennial support. According to Republican polling expert Margaret Kenski, who worked for McCain, he generally got a favorable rating from about 60 percent of the voters in Arizona [source: Salon]. In the 2004 Senate election, he garnered 77 percent of his state's votes [source: PBS].

Sen. McCain made his first run for the White House in the 2000 campaign. He established the "Straight Talk Express," the official nickname for his campaign during the 2000 primaries [source: CNN]. He faltered during the 2000 race, however, when he failed to come up with the Republican Party's support and enough money to compete nationally [source: BBC]. He also lost the support of the Christian right when he referred to Christian leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance" [source: International Herald Tribune]. Following his loss in the 2000 election, McCain returned to his seat in the Senate.

Between January 1987 and August 2018, McCain missed 1,220 of 10,383 roll call votes cast in the Senate (11.7 percent), earning him an "Exceedingly Poor" rating in comparison to his peers. The median for senators is usually 1.5 percent [source: GovTrack]. On the campaign trail for the 2008 primaries, McCain missed 401 of the 632 votes cast in the 110th Congress from January 2007 to August 2008. McCain missed the most votes of any senator in the 110th Congress, including 100 percent of votes cast in the third quarter of 2008 [source: Washington Post, GovTrack]. In the votes that he did cast, he agreed with Republican consensus 88.3 percent of the time [source: Washington Post].

McCain co-sponsored 1,227 bills between 1993 and 2008, earning him an "Average" rating relative to his peers in the Senate. He sponsored 537 bills during that same period, with 263 not making it out of committee ("Extremely Poor") and 31 becoming law ("Exceedingly Good") [source: GovTrack].

In the Senate, McCain served on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; as chair of the Committee on Indian Affairs; and a member of the Armed Services Committee [source: Project Vote Smart].


Voting Scorecards of John McCain

John McCain on Meet the Press.
Sen. John McCain discusses his controversial opinions on stem cell research and immigration reform with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" in 2005.
Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

A joint scorecard of the 110th Congress (2007) by the conservative family values organizations the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family gave Sen. McCain a 42 percent grade for his voting on issues such as hate crimes, embryonic stem cell research and health care for unborn children. Although McCain only voted against the organizations' shared opinion once, he missed three of the seven votes they considered key [source: FRC Action].

The nonpartisan organization Disabled American Veterans gave McCain a score of 20 percent for his votes in 2007. McCain's voted in line with the DAV's concerns one out of five times during the second session of the 107th Congress.


The National Federation of Independent Businesses gave McCain 100 percent grades for his votes in the 110th and 109th Congresses on issues like tax write-offs for small businesses and giving the president line item veto power over minimum wage increases. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave McCain an 80 percent grade on his voting record. Conversely, the AFL-CIO labor union gave McCain a 16 percent rating for his lifetime votes in the Senate [source: AFL-CIO].

McCain received an F from the progressive National Education Association for his voting record in the 109th Congress (2006) on merit pay for teachers, Head Start program changes and education funding [source: NEA]. McCain received a grade of 50 percent for his voting in the 110th Congress on issues American Civil Liberties Union considers key, including the national identification card and grassroots exemption from lobbying reform. Although McCain only voted contrary to the ACLU once (restoring habeas corpus to foreign detainees), he missed five of the seven votes the ACLU surveyed.

The Concord Coalition (CC), a fiscally conservative organization, gave McCain's voting a raw score of 59 percent in the second session of the 106th Congress (2000) on issues like tax cuts, debt reduction and a temporary suspension of the gas tax. On a curve, he ranked in the 98th percentile for voting that reflected values held by the CC. For his record in the 107th Congress, he received a score of 95 percent. For his votes in the 104th Congress (1995) -- the first year the Concord Coalition began scoring -- he received a raw score of 48 percent (54th percentile). Issues that year included a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, reducing naval defense spending and welfare reform [source: Project Vote Smart].

The environmental group League of Conservation Voters gives McCain a score of 15 percent for his votes in the 104th Congress (1994) on issues including pesticide reduction, guaranteeing environmental protection, and renewable energy legislation. In 1998, on issues like increased funding for toxic waste cleanup, mining reform and family planning funding, McCain received a grade of 0 percent. During the 108th Congress, McCain's ratings went up to a grade of 56 percent for his votes on renewable energy, global warming and automotive fuel efficiency.

The National Taxpayers Union -- a nonpartisan group that seeks to limit taxes -- gave McCain an 88 percent grade (an A, making him "A Taxpayer's Friend") for votes in 2006, which included taxes, debt reduction and federal spending. In 1999, the NTU gave him another A (87 percent). In 1995, he received a score of 88 percent, and in 2000, he received another A (82 percent).

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) gave McCain a score of 15 percent in 2006 for his votes on 20 issues, including extending the Bush tax cuts. In 1989, he received a score of 5 percent for a flag desecration amendment, "Star Wars" defense system funding and a minimum wage hike. In 1998, McCain received a score of 20 percent from the ADA for votes on Social Security personal retirement accounts, NATO expansion and immigration expansion.

The American Conservative Union gives McCain a lifetime score of 82.3 percent. In 2006, he scored a 65 percent grade, however, for his votes on earmark disclosure, pork spending and damages caps for medical malpractice. McCain received a score of 43 percent for his votes in 2007 from another conservative group, the John Birch Society, on issues like the minimum wage increase, estate tax repeal and embryonic stem cell research [source: Project Vote Smart].

Next, let's look at McCain's voting record. We'll begin with military and economic issues on the next page.


Voting Record of John McCain: National Security and the Economy

McCain at Virginia Military Institute.
Sen. John McCain is announced at the Virginia Military Institute in 2007 before an address on Iraq War policy. McCain's support for the war hasn't wavered since the U.S. invaded in 2003.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beyond rhetoric, spin and messages, perhaps the truest means of establishing what a candidate values is his or her voting record. Here are some select important issues that came up for a vote during McCain's tenure in Congress.

The Iraq War/Military/National Security:

  • In 2007, McCain voted against the Senate's expression of its sense that the President should decrease the scope of the Iraq War to a "more limited set of missions" (S. Amendment 3876) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • On the Iraq War funding bill in 2007 (H.R. 1591), McCain voted against one version which included a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops (vote 126), did not vote on a second vote of a similar version of the same bill (vote 147), and voted in favor of a different bill that did not include a timetable for withdrawal (vote 181) [source: The Washington Post].
  • In 2007, he voted against S. Amdts. 3875 [source: U.S. Senate]; 3164 [source: U.S. Senate]; 2898 [source: U.S. Senate]; and 2924 [source: U.S. Senate], which called for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
  • McCain did not vote on S. Amdt. 1927 in 2007, which allows eavesdropping without a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order [source: The Washington Post].
  • McCain voted in favor of the Iraq funding bill (S. 762) for April to September 2003 [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • In 1991, McCain voted in favor of using U.S. forces against Iraq in Kuwait (S.J. Res. 2) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted yes on S. 1798 in 1989, an amendment that made murdering Americans abroad through terrorism a death penalty offense [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted in favor of S. Amdt. 935 in 1989, authorizing President George H.W. Bush to send troops into Panama and to remove President Manuel Noriega from power [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He did not vote on H.R. 6304, which supports the extension of the scope of FISA and provides retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that provided their customers' information to the U.S. government [source: U.S. Senate].

Economy/Government Finance:

  • McCain voted in favor of H.R. 2 in 2007, which increased the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 [source: The Washington Post].
  • In 2006, McCain voted in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans (H.R. 4297) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, he voted against the successful bill H.R. 2863, which provided $1.3 billion in emergency funding to states to help with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • He voted in favor of a successful bill that established the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005 [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against S. Amdt. 2804 in 2004, which called for ensuring funding for necessary services by closing corporate tax loopholes and repealing tax breaks for certain individuals [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2003, he voted for S. Amdt. 284, a bill which would have funded the No Child Left Behind Act by repealing tax breaks for wealthy Americans [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted for H.R. 333 in 2001, which made it more difficult to erase debt through bankruptcy [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1995, McCain voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1993, he voted for the implementation of H.R. 3450, the North American Free Trade Agreement [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against killing a bill in 1989 which would have transferred $5 million in fines from unauthorized childcare operations to approved Head Start programs (S. Amdt. 828) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1989, he voted to increase the federal minimum wage (H.R. 2710) from $3.35 to $4.25 from 1989 to 1991 [source: U.S. Senate].

Immigration and health care are two big issues in the 2008 campaign. Read on to see how Sen. McCain has voted on related bills in the past.



Voting Record of John McCain: Immigration and Health Care

John McCain after passage of generic prescription bill.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer listens as John McCain speaks on the passage of a generic prescription bill in July 2002.
Mike Theiler/Getty Images


  • McCain voted in favor of S. Amendment 1348 in 2007, a successful bill that declares English the national language of the U.S. government [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • Also in 2007, McCain voted against a failed amendment (S. Amdt. 2339) allowing more aliens with extraordinary skills or abilities to enter the country than the current limit [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against killing an amendment in 2007 (S. Amdt. 3313) that would have set aside $75 million for funding of state and local law enforcement to combat illegal immigration [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against S. Amdt. 1197 in 2007, which would have required health care be provided for undocumented aliens with Z visas. The bill would have also allowed them to work in the United States while the government looks at their status [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against S. Amdt. 4114 in 2006, which grants visas to immigrants with advanced degrees [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061), which granted $1.2 billion for the construction of a 700-mile (1,127-km) fence along the border with Mexico [source: The Washington Post].
  • He voted to kill S. Amdt. 2417 in 1998, which would have prevented employers from hiring a foreign worker within six months of laying off an American worker with similar skills [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1989, he voted against killing an amendment (S. Amdt. 1089) that included employers of seasonal and migrant workers in certain federal wage funding programs [source: U.S. Senate].

Health Care:

  • McCain missed a vote in 2007 on a rejected amendment to improve rural access to health care services by reducing the liability system associated with obstetrical and gynecological services (S. Amdt. 3673) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2007, McCain voted no on the unsuccessful bill (H.R. 976) to fund the State Children Health Insurance Program at $45 billion through 2011 by increasing the tobacco tax [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • McCain voted in 2005 against S. Amdt. 2259, which would have increased funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program by $74 million [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • In 2004, McCain voted against rejected S. Amdt. 2803, which called for providing $60 billion over five years for public and private health care coverage by repealing Bush tax cuts [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2003, McCain voted against S. Amdt. 349, which proposed a $5,000 tax credit for expenses related to ill Americans' long-term or chronic care needs [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against waiving S. Amdt. 3852 in 2000, which grants tax credits to small business owners for employee health insurance coverage [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1999, McCain voted for Patient's Bill of Rights in relation to health care coverage (S. Amdt. 1242 [source: U.S. Senate] and S. Amdt. 1344) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against S. Amdt. 5190 in 1996, which provided benefits for children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida, but would have required people seeking compensation for injury or death from VA care to first prove fault [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against S. Amdt. 5194 in 1996, which provides health care coverage be extended to mental illness [source: U.S. Senate].

On the next page, we'll look at McCain's voting record with regard to ethics and morality questions, as well as veterans' issues.


Voting Record of John McCain: Ethics, Morality and Veterans

McCain is in favor of flag protection amendment.
Sen. McCain -- shown aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2002 -- has supported bills to amend the Constitution to outlaw flag desecration.
Amy DelaTorres/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Ethics and Morality Issues:

  • McCain did not vote on an amendment in 2007 (S. Amdt. 3035) to the Federal Hate Crimes Act, which expands the definition of hate crimes to include crimes based on sexual orientation [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2006, McCain voted against a measure to introduce legislation to amend the Constitution to specify marriage as a union between a man and a woman (S.J. Res 1) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted in favor of S.J. Res 12 in 2006, an unsuccessful bill proposing a Constitutional amendment banning any desecration to the flag [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2006, McCain voted in favor of the successful bill (later vetoed) H.R. 810, which allowed federal money to go towards embryonic stem cell research [source: The Washington Post].
  • McCain voted against the Unintended Pregnancy Amendment of 2005 (S. Con Res 18), which increased funding for family planning services, expanded prescription coverage for contraceptives and expansion of teen pregnancy education programs [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • McCain voted in favor of the successful ban on partial birth abortions in 2003 (S. 3) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against an unsuccessful bill in 1996 (s. 2056) that would have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted for H.R. 3396 in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act, which does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1989, he voted in favor of a bill (H.R. 2978) that outlawed desecration of the flag; the bill was passed but went unsigned by the president [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of S. Amdt. 822 in 1989, which prevented federal funding for clean needle programs for IV drug users [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against killing an amendment in 1989 to a funding bill that would have prohibited funds being "used to promote or encourage homosexuality as normal or natural" (S. Amendment 826) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2008, McCain voted against the successful bill H.R. 2082, which banned waterboarding and other interrogation techniques not allowed in the Army Field Manual [source: U.S. Senate]. The bill was vetoed by President George W. Bush the following month [source: AP].


  • In 2006, McCain voted against a funding amendment (S. Amdt. 3704) to provide $20 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for health care facilities [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against another 2006 amendment (S. Amdt. 3642) that provided the VA an additional $430 million in funding for outpatient care and treatment for veterans [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against S. Amdt. 3007 in 2006, which would have provided an additional $1.5 billion in funding for veterans' health care in FY 2007 by closing tax loopholes [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, he voted against an amendment to provide an additional $500 million for veterans' mental health care for each year between 2006 and 2010 (S. Amdt. 2634) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted for the successful passage of H.R. 2528 in 2005, which provided funding for veterans' benefits and service for FY 2006 [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, he voted in favor of providing emergency funding for veterans' services for FY 2005 (S. Amdt. 1129) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of an amendment in 2004 (S. Amdt. 3409) proposing a guarantee of funding increases for veterans' health care adjusted for inflation and population increases [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted no on an amendment S. Amdt. 2745 in 2004, which would have increased funding for veterans' medical care by $1.8 billion by "eliminating abusive tax loopholes" [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against an increase of $650 million for veterans' medical care in 2001 (S. Amdt. 1218) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • Also in 2001, he voted in favor of a yearly increase of $1.718 billion in discretionary funding for veterans' health care (S. Amdt. 269) [source: U.S. Senate].

On the next page, we'll look at Sen. McCain's record on the environment and judiciary governance.


Voting Record of John McCain: Environment and Legal

Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, McCain voted in favor of increased liability for companies who spill oil but against requiring tankers in U.S. waters to have double hulls.
Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images


  • McCain voted against rejected Amendment 3039 in 2006, which called for decreasing dependency on foreign oil by increasing biofuel and alternative fuel use [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 2005, McCain voted against killing a motion (S. Amdt. 886) that expressed the sense of the Senate that global warming is a real issue and one that requires legislation [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted in favor of an amendment in 2004 (S. Amdt. 2703), which would have required industries producing toxic waste to help pay for cleanup of toxic sites [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He introduced and voted yes on S. Amdt. 2979 in 2002, raising environmental protection in oil pipeline transportation [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He was in favor of S. Con. Res. 101 in 2000, which would have kept oil drilling operations out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • In 1997, McCain voted for a Senate resolution (S. Res 98), urging the United States not sign the Kyoto Treaty [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted in favor of the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 (S. 39), which limited commercial fishing in U.S. waters [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1995 (S. Amdt. 2988) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted in favor of a bill that increased corporate financial liability for oil spills in 1989 (S. 686) [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted to kill an amendment in 1989 (S. Amendment 669) that would have required tankers operating in U.S. waters to have double hulls [source: U.S. Senate].


  • In 2007, McCain voted in favor of a failed amendment (S. Amdt. 2350) to require voters show photo ID when voting [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He introduced and voted in favor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (H.R. 2356), which limited special interest influence in election campaigns [source: U.S. Senate].
  • McCain voted against S. Amdt. 3473 in 2000, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include those made on the basis of sexual orientation [source: Project Vote Smart].
  • In 1993, McCain voted against the Brady Bill (H.R. 1025), which created a waiting period for gun purchases [source: U.S. Senate].
  • He voted against S. Amdt. 1204 in 1993, which would have replaced the death penalty for certain federal crimes with life imprisonment without the possibility of release [source: U.S. Senate].
  • In 1993, McCain voted against the successful Feinstein amendment (S. Amdt. 1152), which banned the manufacture and sale of 17 models of assault rifles in the U.S. [source: Brady Campaign].
  • In 1990, McCain voted in favor of mandatory minimum sentences for violent, drug and firearms offenses, the "mandatory minimum laws" (S. Amdt. 2084) [source: U.S. Senate].


Presidential Agenda of John McCain

McCain speaks on immigration reform.
In 2006, Sen. John McCain (flanked by Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy) supported a comprehensive immigration reform package that included strengthening the border and a path to citizenship program.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until stability in that country is established was so much a part of John McCain's platform that one of his fundraising supporters told him; "'Everyone knows where you are on Iraq. Let's talk about the environment, pork barrel spending, health care, dependence on foreign oil,'" [source: The New York Times]. Still, the United States' military involvement in the Middle East remained an issue throughout the 2008 campaigns. Iraq's security improved, but a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan gathered steam in 2008. McCain called for a U.S. military troop surge in Afghanistan like the one that had been successful in Iraq [source: McClatchy].

Despite America involved in two wars during the 2008 race, the economy took center stage in the campaigns. The subprime mortgage fallout spurred McCain to blame Wall Street, calling it "the villain" in the crisis [source: Jutia Group]. The senator's economic plan calls for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, while also offering tax breaks to the middle class and repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax. McCain's platform is big on competition and free-market economy: He calls for lower taxes on investment money and banning taxes on technology like the Internet and cell phone industries. He's also looking to curb Medicare spending and is in favor of saving Social Security.


McCain was an adversary of pork barrel spending -- special riders attached to funding bills that generally only benefit a small constituency. His official site assures, "As president, John McCain will oppose spending money on projects that siphon away tax dollars collected for [i.e. wartime funding]" [source: John McCain].

As a senator, McCain spoke out in favor of a largely Democratic-supported bill to curb illegal immigration in part by establishing a path to citizenship for illegal aliens already in the United States. "But this effort must never entail giving away citizenship to those who have broken our laws," McCain wrote in an editorial in March 2007. "Rather it should require those who voluntarily come forward to undertake the hard work of reparation and assimilation that we expect." The candidate called for payment of fines and back taxes, as well as background checks and successful completion of English and civic exams as requisites for naturalization of illegal immigrants already in the country [source: Union Leader]. After coming under fire from conservatives in 2008, McCain acknowledged a shift in his views to support immigration reform only after the borders are secure. "People want the borders secured first," he said in June [source: CNN].

McCain's policy on health care leaned toward reducing costs over ensuring coverage. He "would allow drug imports from Canada to increase competition and drive down prices" [source: Go Health]. McCain has also called for tax credits of $2,500 to $5,000 for the uninsured to purchase coverage. He supported more competition among providers, as well as doctors receiving a set amount annually for services, with rewards for successful treatment [source: The New York Times].

Although some feel that in the past McCain's position on abortion was unclear, on the official site for his 2008 campaign, McCain took a clear stance on the abortion issue: "John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned" [source: John McCain]. The message continued that the decision to allow abortion should be left to the states.

He co-sponsored the partisan Climate Stewardship Act of 2007, which would establish a market for tradeable government-issued allowances for greenhouse gases, much like the current unregulated carbon trading model used by some companies in the United States [source: Library of Congress]. McCain was "the only [Republican candidate] who seems to recognize that there, in fact, is an environment" [source: EcoGeek]. "The fact is climate change is real," McCain said in August 2007 [source: Aspen Times]. To this end, McCain has remained an ardent supporter of the ban on oil exploration and drilling in the National Artic Wildlife Refuge.

Though his support for offshore oil drilling brought fire from Democrats, McCain's energy policy also includes weaning the U.S. off oil. In June 2008, his campaign captured headlines after the nominee said he'd offer a $300 million reward to any auto company that creates a car battery powerful enough to get the United States off of oil. He also committed a federal $5,000 tax credit for consumers who purchase a zero-emissions car, an enticement to both drivers and automakers [source: Reuters].


Fundraising of John McCain

McCain after winning New Hampshire.
Following big wins in Iowa, New Hampshire (shown above), South Carolina and Florida during the primaries in 2008, McCain's presidential campaign was brought back from the edge of the abyss.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Sen. John McCain was having enough trouble raising money for his campaign that some media outlets considered his campaign "seemingly dead" [source: Pollster].

In the first quarter of 2007, McCain raised $13.6 million, followed by $11.2 million in the second quarter [source: Reuters]. Donations dwindled toward the end of the year. In the last three months of 2007, he managed to raise less than $7 million [source: Federal Election Commission]. For a while, the campaign was in the red: In the last days of 2007, his campaign was actually $1.5 million in debt.


After a surprise second place showing in Iowa and a big win in the New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida Republican primaries, however, McCain's finances found new life. From July to September 2007, McCain generated $5.7 million in contributions [source: AP]. Following those early primary wins, he was able to generate more than $7 million in one month, rather than three [source: Lawrence].

McCain raised contributions from 60,000 distinct contributors in the first three months of 2007, the first quarter of the presidential primary campaign [source: USA Today]. By the end of January 2008, he expanded his total number of donors to 110,000 [source: AP]. This seems especially important in the 2008 primaries, as a candidate is expected to require an estimated $500 million in campaign finances to be able to compete throughout the race [source: Open Secrets].

The vast majority -- 83 percent -- of the donations McCain accrued in 2007 and 2008 came from individual donors. Political action committees (PACs) made up 1 percent of McCain's financial contributions, just more than $1.2 million [source: Open Secrets].

Because of McCain's efforts in the Senate to eradicate influence by big business, campaign fundraising by the candidate is perhaps being watched especially closely. Washington Post writer John Solomon observed that to stay competitive in the primaries, McCain was forced to count on connected donors who had previously contributed to large groups McCain had fought against: "In early efforts to secure the support of the Republican establishment he has frequently bucked, McCain has embraced some of the same political-money figures, forces and tactics he pilloried during a 15-year crusade to reduce the influence of big donors, fundraisers and lobbyists in elections" [source: The Washington Post].

McCain's initial trouble with generating large campaign contributions could be attributed largely to three factors: McCain's crusade against big money influence over the political process, his outspoken criticism of groups that traditionally support Republican candidates (like military contractors) and his simple disdain of fundraising. "He is the Senate's most outspoken critic of military procurement policies, big Pentagon contracts and especially earmarks..." [source: The New York Times]. And the candidate "famously dislikes asking donors for money" [source: Financial Times].

McCain's campaign financing came under scrutiny in August 2008 after it came to light that a bundler -- contribution collector -- had accepted $50,000 from foreign donors. Under federal election laws, foreign citizens can't contribute money to campaigns [source: AP]. McCain's finances were also called into question when a $61,500 contribution to a joint McCain-Republican National Committee fund from a woman "of modest means" was found to be an office manager for Hess Oil Company. Companies funneling contributions to campaigns are illegal under election laws [source: AFP].

As the 2008 primary season wore on, McCain's campaign began to attract money that would have formerly gone to his competitors who dropped out of the race. "Rats are starting to leave multiple sinking ships," one McCain campaign fundraiser said in late January 2008 [source: Time]. With McCain as the sole contender for the GOP nomination, he began to raise far more money than before. By the end of July 2008, he raised $145 million during his entire campaign. More than half of that amount ($75 million) came in the first quarter of 2008 [source: OpenSecrets].

Indeed, the ships were sinking and by the end of February 2008, all in the GOP race except McCain's were sunk. In March, he won the delegate votes needed to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.


John McCain and the Presidential Nomination

John McCain receives the official endorsement of President George W. Bush on March 5, 2008.
John McCain receives the endorsement of President George W. Bush on March 5, 2008, the day after McCain clinched the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. John McCain clinched the delegates needed early on in the primary race, compared to the long and often divisive race between the Democratic contenders. McCain made his first primary win in New Hampshire on Jan. 3, 2008; after that win, his fellow GOP contenders began dropping like flies. By March 4, McCain garnered the necessary 1,191 delegate votes needed to clinch the Republican nomination following four big primary wins [source: USA Today]. He became the presumptive 2008 presidential nominee for the Republican Party.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama didn't clinch his party's nomination until June 3. This gave McCain three full months to focus his campaign's attention on the Democrats and get an early start in the presidential race. After a primary season of both snubbing and sniping at McCain, Republican pundits and party members came together behind their nominee, albeit somewhat grudgingly. An August 2008 Fox News poll found that while 86 percent of Republicans surveyed planned to vote for McCain, only 17 percent "strongly" supported him as their candidate [source: Rove].

Sen. McCain was also forced to contend with the star quality granted by the media to Sen. Obama during the campaign. A poll taken during Obama's high-profile trip to Europe and the Middle East in July found that about seven in 10 Americans questioned said they believe "most in the media want Obama to win the November election" [source: Fox News]. McCain's disgust at being treated as a second-class candidate by the media during the campaign became so pronounced that during Obama's overseas trip, he issued special press passes to the reporters covering the McCain campaign. The badges facetiously boasted: "McCain Press Corps, JV Squad: 'Left behind to report in America'" [source: CBS News].

Despite the lack of attention paid him relative to Obama and tepid support from his party, McCain stayed competitive with his Democratic rival in poll after poll. Daily inquires by Gallup into the voting plans of at least 1,000 registered voters found that from March to August 2008, the widest margin between McCain and Obama was a 9 percent difference favoring Obama, with the average margin between the two much narrower [source: Gallup].

Like his Democratic counterpart, McCain drew criticism and controversy during the campaign. As an outspoken critic of the undue influence lobbyists have over the American political system, McCain was bashed after the New York Times reported in February 2008 on an improper relationship between the nominee and a female lobbyist. Many took the article as insinuating McCain had an affair with the lobbyist, although it was never stated explicitly [source: PBS]. McCain was also forced to clean house in his campaign in May. Five McCain aides, including the fundraising co-chairman for the campaign, resigned due to ties with lobbying groups [source: Washington Post].

The candidate was also criticized for some of his stated policy views. He received negative press after he responded to a question during a January 2008 town hall meeting in New Hampshire, telling the crowd he could see American troops remaining in Iraq for 100 years. Despite clarifying the following month that he meant maintaining a troop presence similar to those stationed in Korea or Japan, the remark continued to serve the Democrats as an easy criticism of McCain's foreign policy [source: ABC News].

He was also lambasted for what appeared to be "flip-flopping" concerning his policy on offshore drilling along the coasts of the U.S. McCain formerly supported a ban on drilling off the coasts along the Eastern seaboard, California and Florida. He reversed this in June, stating he would lift the ban if elected and leave the decision to drill to the states [source: CBS News]. McCain said offshore drilling could ease gas prices "within a matter of months," while others, including New Jersey governor John Corzine, publicly stated McCain's reversal would help oil companies more than consumers [source: CNN, Political Affairs].

Sarah Palin and John McCain
Sarah Palin and her family join John McCain onstage at the Republican National Convention.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. McCain surprised the public and his party when he named a political unknown to share his campaign ticket. McCain chose Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and first-term governor of that state. Palin, 44, is a former commercial fishing worker, a self-described "hockey mom" and avid outdoorswoman who enjoys hunting. She and her husband, Todd, had five children at the time of her nomination ranging in age from five months to 17 years.

McCain said he chose Palin because of her "grit and integrity and devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today" [source: Fox News]. Palin's credentials included strong pro-life and family values and serving in an executive capacity as mayor and governor. She also brought controversy to McCain's campaign, however. Palin allegedly fired the state public safety commissioner serving under her after he refused to fire Palin's brother-in-law, a state trooper who was then in the midst of a divorce from Palin's sister. News later emerged that Palin's unmarried, 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. Palin and her husband released a statement saying they were proud of their daughter's decision to keep her child [source: CNN].

Palin's popularity made a swift contribution to McCain's campaign, bringing McCain even with Obama in the polls. But the GOP candidate's campaign took a hit in September. The U.S. economy slid into a recession, and many Americans concluded it was the result of poor management by a Republican government. With the Obama camp continuously linking McCain to the "failed policies of George W. Bush," and the economy continuing its slide, McCain's poll numbers slid as well. The campaigns entered October neck-to-neck, as they had been throughout the autumn. By the middle of the month, polls began to show Obama pulling ahead of McCain. One poll showed the Democratic nominee had a 49 to 43 percent lead over the GOP candidate [source: MSNBC]. Palin also made a series of gaffes in interviews that showed her lack of experience in national politics.

The debates are another reason political observers pointed to as reason for McCain's slide. Obama won all three presidential debates, according to CNN polls following each debate [source: CNN].

McCain ended up losing the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, 173 electoral votes to 365. Obama also decisively won the popular vote 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent. When asked about it in later years, McCain said, "After I lost ... I slept like a baby — sleep two hours, wake up and cry." In his memoir, "The Restless Wave," he wrote that he regretted picking Sarah Palin as his running mate and felt that he should have gone with his gut and picked independent Joe Lieberman instead [source: Collinson].

Life After McCain's Presidential Bid

Following his failed presidential bid, in 2010, McCain was elected to a fifth term in the senate and he won a sixth term in 2016 [source: CNN]. He also became chair of the Armed Forces Services Committee, a lifelong dream of his. As chair of that position, he shepherded a bill that called for the Pentagon to spend $700 billion, which included more troops to fight ISIS and in Afghanistan as well as a modest boost to troop pay. McCain had been critical of President Obama's decision to withdraw troops in Iraq and Afghanistan [source: Brook].

Still, during Obama's presidency, McCain was involved in international affairs at Obama's request. During the Arab Spring of 2013, he and Sen. Lindsey Graham met with Egyptian leaders as well as Muslim Brotherhood leadership [source: CNN].

But McCain would have a less cordial relationship with President Donald Trump who was elected in 2016. He questioned Trump's apparently cosy relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, calling it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." He also lamented the harsh rhetoric Trump employed on Twitter and in person against his enemies and called for a return to a more civilized era [source: Collionson]. Back in 2015, Trump said that McCain was "not a war hero" even though McCain was captured and spent five years in a POW camp. "I like people who weren't captured," Trump said [source: Gearan and Dawsey].

In July 2017, McCain was diagnosed with primary glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor. Although he underwent treatment, he returned to the senate in September to dramatically deliver a "thumbs down" vote on repealing Obamacare, which killed the measure and prevented one of Trump's signature campaign promises from being enacted [source: Collionson].

In August 2018, McCain died of brain cancer. His body will lie in state in the Captiol's rotunda, an honor accorded to only 30 Americans so far. Both Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have been asked to speak at his funeral, a true mark of his bipartisan support [source: Kennedy].

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