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McCain works to soften reputation about temper

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - Temper, temper. Republican John McCain is known for his.

He's been dubbed "Senator Hothead" by more than one publication, but he's also had some success extracting his hatchet from several foreheads.

Even his Republican Senate colleagues are not spared his sharp tongue.

"F--- you," he shouted at Texas Sen. John Cornyn last year.

"Only an a------ would put together a budget like this," he told the former Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Pete Domenici, in 1999.

"I'm calling you a f------ jerk!" he once retorted to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

With Cornyn, he smoothed things over quickly. The two argued during a meeting on immigration legislation; Cornyn complained that McCain seemed to parachute in during the final stages of negotiations. "F--- you. I know more about this than anyone else in the room," McCain reportedly shouted.

Cornyn chuckled at the memory of what he called McCain's "aggressive expressions of differences." The Texan has endorsed McCain.

"He almost immediately apologized to me," Cornyn said last week. "I accepted his apology, and as far as I'm concerned, we've moved on down the road."

The political landscape in Arizona, McCain's home state, is littered with those who have incurred his wrath. Former Gov. Jane Hull pretended to hold a telephone receiver away from her ear to demonstrate a typical outburst from McCain in a 1999 interview with The New York Times.

McCain has even blown up at volunteers and, on occasion, the average Joe.

He often pokes fun at his reputation: "Thanks for the question, you little jerk," he said last year to a New Hampshire high school student wondering if McCain, at 71, was too old to be president.

Other times, his ire is all too real. This has prompted questions about whether his temperament is suited to the office of commander-in-chief or whether it might handicap him in a presidential campaign against either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton, who are not known for such outbursts.

"I decided I didn't want this guy anywhere near a trigger," Domenici told Newsweek in 2000.

His irascibility fits with McCain's proud image as a straight talker willing to say what people don't want to hear.

Yet McCain's temper hinders his efforts to make peace with his critics and rally Republicans behind his candidacy for president. That could be a big problem, because his most persistent foes - conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson - talk to tens of millions of people each day.

Progress won't happen overnight, said conservative Republican strategist Greg Mueller.

"I hope they'll be resolved by the time we all go to convention, but it's going to take a while to mend some of the wounds and get everybody back together," Mueller said.



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