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What Would a Maverick Do?

And McCain has also begun thinking about his legacy. He recognizes, says a person who has spoken with him about it, that political life is fleeting, that he could one day be forgotten. It scares him. At this point, losing to J. D. Hayworth would be too much for McCain to bear, especially after all he’s sacrificed to prevent it.

“That’s no way to go out,” says Grant Woods, a longtime friend of McCain’s. “You don’t live the life he’s lived and lose to a goof like J. D. Hayworth.”

Ironically, both McCain’s opponent and his own supporters agree on one thing: If he wins, he’ll probably morph yet again, a lame-duck senator with nothing to lose, tacking left to reclaim his old mantle as a thorn in his party’s side. It’s what friends like Graham envision for him.

“What I hope will happen is that he’ll be the force against excess and the person who can find that common ground we need to have as a nation. That’s what I hope will happen, and that’s what I expect will happen.”

“Here’s the question for John,” Graham adds. “If he’s asked to support comprehensive immigration reform, does he support it?”

That’s anybody’s guess. But if Worth the Fighting For, McCain’s 2002 book, is any guide, it’s easy enough to imagine what he might say after November should he win reelection. In that book, McCain admitted that in the 2000 presidential primary, he’d supported South Carolina’s right to fly the Confederate flag against his own belief that it was a symbol of racism.

“I didn’t want to do this,” he says. “But I could tell from the desperate looks of my staff that we had an enormous problem. And that it could come down to lying or losing. I chose lying.”