COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dogged by suggestions he's too old to be president, John McCain often says he should bring his mother to campaign stops to demonstrate his good genes. On Wednesday he did.
"I am so happy to be here. I think I'm going to cry," 95-year-old Roberta McCain said as she introduced her son to about 200 seniors at a retirement community. She said three generations of McCain women are supporting his campaign.
She later took her first trip on McCain's famous campaign bus. "It's a thrill for me to be invited to tag along," she said.
The 71-year-old Arizona senator told the crowd at the retirement community that Medicare was set to go broke in 2019.
"I would also remind you that Social Security is going to go broke as well," he said, pointing to a chart. He said older voters owe it to their children and grandchildren to fix the problems.
McCain hit on other issues important to older voters when he stopped at the sprawling Sun City Carolina Lakes development in the South Carolina suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. McCain talked about using clinics and prescription drug reforms to cut medical care costs and expanding veteran programs to include a card to be used with any health care provider.
McCain also seemed a little shaken by a question from retired Air Force Major Edward Nowokunski, who told McCain he'd spoken with some of his former POW buddies. They say nothing negative or positive, Nowokunski said. "They say, 'He's a politician.' Why do they answer me that way?"
McCain said the people Nowokunski mentioned were his dearest and closest friends as well as donors who had traveled with him during the campaign.
"I don't know why they would be telling you that," McCain said, noting it was different from what they say to him.
"I am frankly astonished and I don't believe you," McCain said to chuckles and applause.
After the event, Nowokunski told a reporter he felt bad for asking the question because he thought he hurt McCain's feelings.
McCain told reporters later he wasn't stung by the question. His POW buddies went through tough times together. "I cherish their friendship and I know how they feel about me," McCain said.
McCain is trying to raise his profile on a two-day swing through South Carolina. Despite his loss of momentum in the summer amid a financial meltdown, people are no longer quick to write him off — especially here, where he remains popular among older Republicans and those with military ties.
In Columbia, Faye Trueblood, the community's self-proclaimed oldest resident at 103, said she hopes no more candidates join the crowded GOP field and lately has been looking at Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator. "Thompson's interfering with my feelings about this guy," she said of McCain.
Trueblood has decided she won't support Romney, saying she's a Southern Baptist and doesn't care for Romney's Mormon faith.
Romney's religion was no stumbling block for Bob Jones University chairman Bob Jones III, who said this week he was backing the former governor.
Jones ran the Christian fundamentalist school in South Carolina in 2000 when McCain criticized its ban on interracial dating and its anti-Roman Catholic views. McCain also criticized his then-chief challenger, George W. Bush, for speaking there.
"Actually, I haven't been critical of Bob Jones University in the past, except I did not agree with their racial segregation policies — which they have done away with," McCain said.
On Wednesday, the college sent out a news release saying Jones' endorsement of Romney did not reflect the school's position.
McCain said he was building his own evangelical support in South Carolina, noting that state Sen. Mike Fair, known for his conservative views, was working on his campaign.