John McCain lost the Republican Party nomination for president in the
2000 election but won the nomination in the 2008 election.
McCain was born into a military family in 1936 and grew up on
naval bases in the United States and overseas. After graduating from high
school in 1954, McCain attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis,
Maryland, where he studied electrical engineering. He struggled as a
good student, and he graduated almost at the bottom of his class in
1958. In spite his less-than-remarkable standing, McCain was accepted
into aviator training.
McCain married his first wife, Carol Shepp,
in 1965, and they had three children. The couple divorced in 1980. That same year, McCain
married his second wife, Cindy Hensley, and
they had four children together.
During the Vietnam War (1954–75),
McCain was flying a mission over Hanoi,
Vietnam, in 1967 when an antiaircraft missile
sliced off his airplane’s right wing and forced
him to eject. He survived but broke both arms,
shattered a knee, and broke a shoulder. He was
found and beaten by a crowd of Vietnamese and
stabbed with a bayonet. McCain became a prisoner of war (POW) when North Vietnamese
captors took him into custody; he was refused
medical treatment for nine days. He was finally
admitted to a hospital and nursed back to
health. Although the North Vietnamese offered
him an early release because his father was a high-ranking U.S. military official, he refused unless POWs captured
before him were released also.
Following his snubbing of the early-release offer, McCain was tortured almost constantly by his Vietnamese captors for a solid week. After
suffering further beatings and malnutrition, he was placed in a facility
with fifty other POWs in 1971. In total, McCain experienced physical
and psychological torment for a total of five-and-a-half years before he
was released in 1973.
Although he weighed just 100 pounds at the time of his release,
McCain recovered. His injuries left him unable to bend his knee, raise
his right arm all the way, or hold his arms out straight. He would suffer
from arthritis for the rest of his life. Yet McCain was emotionally stable.
He received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart,
and Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1977, the pilot was promoted to
Also in 1977, McCain became the U.S. Navy liaison to the U.S.
Senate. He retired from the Navy in 1981 and won a seat in the U.S.
House of Representatives representing Arizona. McCain voted in support of prayer in public schools, subsidies for tobacco companies, and
the reintroduction of certain handgun sales. He voted against the Equal
Rights Amendment that would give women equal rights with men in the
McCain won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1986 and was appointed
to several committees. He was involved in a campaign finance scandal in
1989 along with four other senators. Although an investigation found
him guilty of poor judgment, McCain was found innocent of any
wrongdoing. His reputation suffered briefly, but he managed to get
reelected to the Senate in 1992.
In 1995, Senator McCain angered his fellow Republicans when he
supported campaign finance reform. McCain’s own bad experience
caused him to join forces with members of the Democratic Party in an
effort to limit private donations to public offices. It took years, but in
2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was signed into law.
McCain announced his plans to run for U.S. president in 1999.
Although he won some of the primaries in early 2000, his opponent,
Texas governor George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) won the nomination and ultimately became president. After losing the nomination, McCain remained active in the Senate.
In April 2007, McCain launched his second presidential campaign.
It was a troubled campaign, marred by poor fundraising and decisions
that raised the ire of McCain’s fellow Republicans. For example, McCain
supported immigration reform, which would allow some illegal immigrants to seek citizenship, and most Republicans did not. By 2007, surveys showed that a large percentage of Americans were eager to see an
end to the war in Iraq, which had begun in 2003 with the vocal support
of McCain. Because of his war stance and because McCain sometimes
opted not to support traditional conservative policies, many observers
doubted his ability to win support from conservative Republicans.
Despite early campaign setbacks, McCain’s wartime experience
helped him stay in the race against his primary rivals, former
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (1947–) and former Arkansas
governor Mike Huckabee (1955–). After Romney dropped out of the
race in February 2008, McCain received an endorsement from former
president George H. W. Bush (1924–; served 1989–93), and on March
4, McCain clinched the Republican nomination when he won primaries
in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island. The following day, he
received an endorsement from his one-time political opponent,
President George W. Bush.
While McCain had wrapped up his nomination, the Democratic
Party had yet to arrive at its own nominee. U.S. senator Barack Obama
(1961–) of Illinois and U.S. senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947–)
of New York were still battling it out by mid-spring, with Obama eventually winning out by late spring. McCain, meanwhile, was preparing himself for two months of campaigning against his Democratic opponent.