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Meet '08 contender John McCain ... again

His week-long tour stresses his family's military service – and why it makes him fit to be president.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 2, 2008

Out and about: Sen. John McCain (center) and his wife, Cindy, attended an air show at the McCain field on the Meridian Naval Air Station in Mississippi on Sunday.

mary altaffer/ap

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WASHINGTON

John McCain is one of America's best-known politicians. In the latest Gallup favorability ratings for people in the news – a survey of all Americans, not just voters – the senior senator from Arizona clocks in at 67 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable, and 7 percent without an opinion. No one replied, "who's that?"

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So why is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee taking a week to reintroduce himself to the American people, with special emphasis on his and his family's military service? Because as much as people think they know about Senator McCain, he wants to explain his story himself – and its relevance to why he believes he should be president.

"People know the basic contours of his life, but it's always good to fill in the profile before opponents do so," says Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "There's a classic strategy of [campaign] advertising in which you start with biography, then you move to the issue profile, then go on the attack. He's following the three-step program."

Since locking up the Republican nomination almost a month ago, McCain has been a secondary player in campaign coverage while Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama duke it out for the Democratic nomination. In some ways, life outside the spotlight has been a gift to McCain. If the Democrats already had a nominee, he or she would have pounded hard on McCain's apparent gaffe while in the Middle East, in which he stated that Iran was aiding Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Democratic nominee also would likely have spent more time skewering McCain over his housing foreclosure proposal, which offered less relief than even President Bush's.

But this week, on its "Service to America" tour, the McCain campaign has been playing offense, providing the media with a narrative rather than just policy prescriptions. On Monday, the former Vietnam prisoner of war addressed a rally in Meridian, Miss., near McCain airfield, which was named for his grandfather, a Navy admiral, and where the senator had once been stationed as a flight instructor. He spoke of his "martial heritage" and how the men and women of his family taught him about duty, honor, and courage.

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