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John McCain Avoids Republican Convention To Focus On Re-Election


Many prominent Republicans are avoiding Cleveland this week. Among the most notable is Senator John McCain. He's campaigning for re-election back home in Arizona. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea caught up with McCain in Flagstaff.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: In the summer of 2008, John McCain stood on stage at the Republican National Convention. A packed arena roared for the senator and war hero.


JOHN MCCAIN: Tonight I have a privilege given few Americans - the privilege of accepting our party's nomination for president of the United States.


GONYEA: This summer, with Donald Trump the newly crowned GOP nominee, Senator McCain is 2,000 miles away.

MCCAIN: Could I ask you to take seats? And we'll begin. I thank all of you for coming, and I thank you. We just had an excellent meeting.

GONYEA: That's McCain at the Camp Navajo Army Base yesterday morning. It was part of a full day in northern Arizona. By noon he was speaking to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Flagstaff. At every stop, much of his focus is on local issues.

MCCAIN: By the way, I'm glad that we got some new fire-fighting airplanes. As you know, they were using DC-3s, and we got some more modern...

GONYEA: But I'm at a banquet last night, McCain said this.


MCCAIN: Most happy to be with you and here and not in Cleveland. I promise you that.


MCCAIN: I would rather make America great again here with you than in Cleveland, so...


GONYEA: It's complicated for John McCain. It was a year ago this week that Trump derided McCain, saying of the former Vietnam-era POW, quote, "I like people who weren't captured." But once Trump sewed up the nomination, McCain stunned many by saying he'd vote for the nominee. It's a balancing act for a Republican incumbent in a state that went big for Trump in the primary. It's clear he prefers not to talk about Trump at all. When he does, it sounds like this from Flagstaff yesterday.

MCCAIN: I believe that what I have said about - that I support the nominee of the party is sufficient.

GONYEA: McCain has cautioned that Trump's hard line rhetoric on immigration can hurt him and the GOP in a state with so many Hispanic voters. And yesterday he pointed out that polls show even a majority of Republicans support a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally.

MCCAIN: But it also has to have a secure border. That is a primary requirement of most Americans, and I think that's what most Americans want.

GONYEA: When I said that support for a path to citizenship is very different from what we've heard at the RNC this week, McCain responded that he's not watching.

MCCAIN: Honestly I didn't see it, so it's hard for me to comment.

GONYEA: McCain, who is almost 80 years old and is seeking a sixth term, says Arizona voters know his record. This week while Republicans gather in Cleveland, he's back home trying to make sure of that. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.