McCain is a throwback to another Arizona Republican who pursued the presidency in 1964, suffered a bitter rejection and then returned to the Senate to compile a list of accomplishments. Fittingly, McCain's office is a testament to a unique political symmetry with Barry Goldwater.
McCain uses Goldwater's desk and in the back corner of his office is a series of black-and-white photographs of Navajo Indians that Goldwater took in the 1930s. Other photos and documents are a reminder of McCain's work with Democrats, particularly the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
It's that type of bipartisanship that's in vogue again.
McCain is involved in negotiations with a group of eight Republicans and Democrats on immigration, including Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Marco Rubio and Graham, and describes himself as "guardedly optimistic" about working out a deal. He and Graham met with Obama at the White House two weeks ago.
"He's willing to give us a shot at it," McCain said of Obama. "I think he wants a bipartisan solution the same way Bush wanted Kennedy and I to come forward."
Political divisions within the Republican ranks scuttled McCain-Kennedy efforts on immigration in 2005 and then again in 2007 in the lead-up to the presidential election. Even McCain, pressured by the GOP presidential primaries, spent more time talking border security than citizenship.
This year, after Hispanics overwhelmingly backed Obama and Democrats in the 2012 election, the GOP recognized it had a major problem.
"As far as Republicans are concerned I think there's a growing realization that the only way we can get on a level playing field for our Hispanic constituents is to get this done," McCain said.
He said he had a middle-of-the-night thought about the bill's name.
"If we ever pass this immigration reform, we should name it after Ted. He certainly devoted a hell a lot of his blood and sweat," McCain said.
On a crowded wall in a room outside his office, McCain finds a framed cover from National Review with a photograph of himself and Kennedy from past immigration fights and a personal note from the Democrat. He fondly remembers Kennedy's style, which sounds a lot like McCain's.
"Do I fight? Do I enjoy it in the arena? Hell yeah, but that doesn't mean that I'm angry. It means that I like to go in and do battle with them. My favorite was Ted Kennedy. We would go face to face. One time we were right at each other, and then walked off the floor and Ted said, 'we did pretty good, didn't we?'"
How much longer McCain keeps fighting in the Senate is uncertain. He is up for re-election in 2016 when he'll be 80 years old and says he does not want to overstay. His mother Roberta turned 101 last month and McCain jokes that based on her standards, he's just getting started.
"What I would do in a couple of years is go around, talk to people, the usual machinations," he said of a possible re-election bid, quickly adding: "I do not want to stay too long as I've seen some former colleagues."
Many of the old gang is gone. Kennedy died in 2009. McCain's best buddy, Joe Lieberman, retired from the Senate last year. McCain still talks about how the Democrat-turned-independent might have been his running mate in 2008 if it weren't for his support for abortion rights that never would have been accepted by the Republican Party.
"I miss him every day," McCain says.
Donna Cassata can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DonnaCassataAP
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