THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

McCain's children avoid the limelight

Supportive, but most not on trail

Email|Print| Text size + By Jennifer Steinhauer
New York Times News Service / December 27, 2007

Before Senator John McCain steps in front of an audience at a presidential debate, his daughter Meghan makes sure his nose is properly powdered. And from the campaign bus, she blogs about New Hampshire through the prism of politics and fashion.

But Meghan McCain, 23, is one of the stark exceptions among the seven McCain children, who have generally shied away from campaigning.

Among the Republican candidates, John McCain, 71, has the greatest number of children, who span four decades, two marriages, numerous states, and a broad swath of the political spectrum. But they are largely absent in a primary battle in which families - and all that their presence implies - are ornaments.

Yet unlike the absent children of Rudy Giuliani, who have strained relations with their father, the McCain children speak with endearment of theirs. They have maintained close relations with him in spite of long absences during childhood, a period of intense disappointment (among his older children when McCain remarried), and the breadth of geography and generations.

As they did in childhood, the McCain children still find one another by their father's side: in rafting boats, on hikes in the Grand Canyon, on mopeds in Bermuda, and relaxing in Arizona.

"I think he'd prefer the family kind of stayed private," said Doug McCain, who at 48 is John McCain's oldest child, one of his four sons, and a pilot for American Airlines. "I just think he is a big believer in individuals doing their own thing."

Although his youngest sons are in the military - Jack, 21, attends the US Naval Academy and Jimmy, 19, is a Marine stationed in Iraq - John McCain is loath to invoke their names when he defends his foreign policy positions, even once when Jimmy was sitting in the audience before deployment.

On a recent stop in South Carolina, as a mother who lost her son in Iraq began to suggest that John McCain understood her plight because of Jimmy, the senator gently motioned for her to stop.

Meghan McCain is omnipresent at town hall meetings, Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, and other campaign stops, but quietly watches from the corner of the room. Even with her blog, Meghan goes largely unrecognized. John McCain likes to flip open his cellphone to display a photograph of the two of them at her college graduation.

McCain's family is as complicated as it is large.

There are the children from his first marriage - Doug and Andy, from his first wife's former marriage - whom he adopted when they were young, as well as a daughter, Sidney. Then there is the second family: Meghan, Jimmy, Jack, and the McCains' adopted daughter, Bridget, 16, who became a target of dirty campaigning in the 2000 presidential race when she was portrayed as the child of an illicit union.

Asked during an interview this fall about his reluctance to bring attention to his expansive brood, the normally loquacious John McCain, who is unabashed on any number of topics, seemed uncomfortable.

"It's intentional," he said. "I just feel it's inappropriate for us to mention our children. I don't want people to feel that, it's just, I'd like them to have their own lives.

"I wouldn't want to seem like I'm trying to gain some kind of advantage. I just feel that it's a private thing."

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