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Standing on the Senate floor last Oct. 14, [1999,] McCain, the Republican presidential contender known for a hair-trigger temper, was being pummeled with hostile questions by his longtime nemesis, Sen. Mitch McConnell. Everyone in the chamber knew McConnell was trying to goad McCain into losing his temper.

McConnell started by reading verbatim quotes from McCain's campaign appearances in which the Arizona senator alleged that members of Congress were being corrupted by large, unregulated campaign contributions. He then called on McCain to name some members who had been corrupted.

"I am not in the business of identifying individuals or attacking individuals," McCain sputtered, as he strained to maintain his composure. "I am attacking a system that has to be fixed. . . "

McConnell would not let up.

"I ask the senator from Arizona, how can it be corruption if no one is corrupt? That is like saying the gang is corrupt, but none of the gangsters are."

Again, he demanded: "Who is corrupt?"

Suddenly, McCain turned on McConnell, although he did not lose his temper. Instead, he calmly resurrected an incident from the past that was designed to portray his opponent as a lackey of the tobacco industry.

He recalled a speech the Republican senator from Kentucky had made in the privacy of a GOP caucus meeting last year. McConnell had assured senators that the tobacco industry would help them in future re-election campaigns if they voted against a popular $1.10-a-pack tobacco tax proposed by McCain.

"A certain senator stood up and said it was okay for you not to vote for the tobacco bill because the tobacco companies will run ads in our favor," McCain said.

To this day, many senators, lobbyists and journalists remember that as one of the nastiest exchanges witnessed on the Senate floor.


Saying his Senate colleague has wrapped up the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday threw his support to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the GOP’s nominee to be the next president.

--Christopher Orr