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McCain Begins Presidential Campaign, Calls for Reform

By David S. Broder

Washington Post -- Nashua, New Hampshire

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona maverick and former Vietnam prisoner of war, formally launched his uphill bid for the Republican presidential nomination here Monday calling for a “new patriotic challenge” to reform the political system and strengthen the nation’s defenses.

McCain, who has emerged as a credible underdog challenger to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, implicitly drew a contrast between their life experiences, saying his ordeal in a Hanoi prison taught him “both the blessing and the price of freedom” and gave him the confidence to make his own judgments on issues of war and peace.

Bush has acknowledged needing tutelage on national security issues, and after questions about his service in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam has been forced to deny that favoritism to his father, who was in Congress at the time, eased his way from Yale into that stateside unit.

McCain identified himself to a noontime crowd of about 1,000 at a park here as “the son and grandson of Navy admirals,” a man “born into America’s service ... It is because I owe America more than she has ever owed me that I am a candidate for president,” he said.

With his compelling personal story and knack for staying in the news, McCain is perhaps as well-positioned to upset Bush as anyone in the race. His endurance through 5 1/2 years in North Vietnamese prisons is movingly recounted in his new best-selling autobiographical book, “Faith of My Fathers.”

McCain has been raising about $2 million per quarter this year and “will have enough cash and matching funds to max out in the early states,” said campaign manager Rick Davis -- though not enough to keep pace with Bush and Steve Forbes.

In his speech, McCain pledged to press for overhaul of the campaign finance system -- a battle on which he has been fighting his party’s leaders for years -- and to veto any “pork barrel” spending bill that reaches him as president. He also offered voters tax cuts, pledged to seek a nationwide test of school vouchers and vowed to save “every single dollar” of the Social Security surplus.

But mostly, McCain used his announcement speech to begin drawing a personal contrast with Bush, who leads the field in fund-raising and endorsements. Without mentioning Bush by name, McCain said, “I don’t begin this mission with any sense of entitlement.”