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McCain: Obama has run 'the most vicious campaign that I've ever observed'

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," September 3, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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CROWLEY: Thank you for staying with us. I'm Monica Crowley, in tonight for Bill O'Reilly. And in the "Personal Story" segment tonight, what does it take to make a run for the White House. What kind of inner strength, stamina and fortitude. And what kind of toll does a tough campaign take on a candidate's personal life.

In an extraordinarily candid interview with Bill, John McCain lays bare the highlights and hardships of reaching for the highest office in the land.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, Senator, what was the most difficult thing personally about you running for president four years ago.

JOHN MCCAIN, ARIZONA SENATOR AND FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): Well, I think, probably, the most difficult is the pace. You know, it's 24/7. And even when you lie down to try to go to sleep, you're thinking about things, but the pace of things.

But, at the same time, Bill, I was always cognizant of the fact that here is a guy that stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy, crashed four airplanes at taxpayers' expense that could run for president of the United States and get the nomination of the republican party. Most of it was exhilaration to tell you the truth.

O'REILLY: OK, but you do have to sleep at night and when you hit the hotel room, you're jacked up because the adrenaline is going all day long and I can imagine, you got more than four or five hours of sleep per night. Would that be about right.

MCCAIN: That would be about right. And the thing you have to guard against, too, you know, is every mistake I've ever made, and I bet you, it's same with you, is when you're tired.

So you try not to get too tired because that's when mistakes are made. And, I think, that's true with other politicians, you know, we can name those incidents in history.

So, you try to get as much sleep as possible, which is four or five hours. But, at the same time, don't get so fatigued that you lose your temper or you say something stupid. I'm probably going to say something stupid anyway.

O'REILLY: Sure. Absolutely. When people get tired, they get rundown, the thought process isn't as sharp.

Now, when you are out on the road, you have a schedule, a schedule, all right. Now, President Clinton, notorious for being late. President Obama is late a lot.

But you were punctual pretty much on that schedule. Is that your military bearing or did you insist on it.

MCCAIN: Bill, look, I admire and respect Bill Clinton as one of the great politicians and he could get away with it. I know that. The same thing with President Obama.

But the rudest thing you can do is keep people waiting. They're there to see you. Sometimes, they already have to get to their way early anyway because of the Secret Service.

And, in all due respect, I do not respect politicians that keep people waiting that are there to see them.

O'REILLY: All right. So, that was something that you personally insisted upon, "I'm going to be punctual. Don't load me up, so I can make A to Z.

MCCAIN: Yes.

O'REILLY: Psychologically, you're barraged with a lot of press. Did you read and listen to the press while you were campaigning.

MCCAIN: Some. But, you know, your schedule doesn't allow it because it's a jammed schedule. So you don't -- you're a little bit in a bubble in that respect.

I knew -- look, when the stock market crashed 700 points in one day and we went down seven points, I knew that we had a very difficult struggle. And so, I kind of avoided some of the media just for my own morale sake.

O'REILLY: All right. So, you selectively look at -- I assume, in the morning, they give you polling, they give you a folder, an overnight folder of what your handlers think you should know, right. You get a briefing, right.

MCCAIN: Yes. And, also, you know, when I get up in the morning, I watch the early shows and, of course, have to tune in on "FOX & FRIENDS" and all that, you know.

O'REILLY: Well, if you want a good laugh, you go with Doocy and Kilmeade and Carlton. Now, in the movie that portrayed you and Sarah Palin -- I know you didn't think much about that HBO movie, Ed Harris played you.

And he played you as a guy who was in-charge of the campaign but did defer to some of your advisors. They would come in and they would say, "Listen, Senator, you got to do X, Y, and Z."

Woody Harrelson was playing the lead in that. Was that true. Did you run at all or did you defer to some advisors.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, about the movie -- and I didn't see it, but I'm told that I'm portrayed as someone who uses the "F" word every other word.

O'REILLY: Yes. Harris cursed a lot, yes.

MCCAIN: I'm an old Navy man but I don't do that. Because, I think, it's a sign, frankly, of the lack of vocabulary and the lack of intellect.

But, putting that aside, I pretty much ran my own campaign.

O'REILLY: Now, there was a time when Michigan was a bone of contention in your campaign. This is true. We know this because Sarah Palin works for Fox.

She wanted to campaign in Michigan. You wanted to use resources elsewhere. So, I'm assuming, that was your decision, that you saw the polling and you deployed the resources that you had where you wanted them. It's like a chess game and you are the guy moving the pieces. Is that correct.

MCCAIN: Well, I think, that's correct. The polling, unfortunately, showed that we had no chance in Michigan.

I talked to Sarah about it she wanted to go there because Sarah felt that she could turn it around. And we had a long conversation about it. But there was never any space between me and Sarah Palin. I love her and I cherish her and her family.

And I'm grateful for her running with me. And I still regret -- the only thing I regret is I had no idea that she would be attacked as viciously as she still is today --

O'REILLY: Oh, absolutely.

MCCAIN: -- by the liberal press.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Continuing now with Bill's candid interview with Senator John McCain. No one knows better he what it's like to run a campaign against Barack Obama. So, what lessons would he pass on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'REILLY: If you had to give Mitt Romney one piece of advice -- or you may have already done this, you would say.

MCCAIN: My advice to him is, the reality is that all these hundreds of millions of dollars of negative ads by Obama, in the most vicious campaign that I've ever observed, has driven up his unfavorables.

And, now, here at the convention, and I'm sure this is going to happen, he's going to have a chance to talk directly to the American people and show the American people what a good and decent person he is, and what a fine family he has.

And that the qualities of the guy -- look, he and I had a tough primary in 2008ish, you know. But I got to like and respect Mitt Romney.

And I think that that part of him has been damaged by this hundreds of millions of dollars of negative attack ads on him, which I don't think is going to work at the end of the day.

But that's his challenge, I think, at the convention. And I'm confident, he'll do it.

O'REILLY: So, you are going to say to him, "You've got to be more personal. You got to get out there. You got to let the folks know who you are in a sincere way. It's not a phony political deal. You got to reveal something of yourself, so they feel more comfortable with you." Am I encapsulating that correctly.

MCCAIN: That is correct. But that is because of this incredible attack --

O'REILLY: No, I know.

MCCAIN: -- yes, attack campaigns that he's faced. But I'm also confident he's doing that. But, now, the eyes of America will be on him when he speaks. And, I think, it's a great idea to have Ann Romney speaking first.

That will rebut a lot of the stuff that you've seen that, you know -- I've never seen anything where an allegation would made that a person is responsible for the tragic death of a person's wife. I mean, you know, this plummets depths that I have not seen before in any political campaign.

O'REILLY: Final question for you. And I would like to have you back before the debates.

MCCAIN: Sure.

O'REILLY: You went one-on-one with Barack Obama. I've done that. He's quick.

He's quick, all right. Now, you underestimate him at your peril. You would agree with that, correct.

MCCAIN: I would totally agree with that. And he also gives a great speech. And, I'm sure, he'll give a great speech at his convention.

O'REILLY: But I'm talking the debate now.

MCCAIN: Yes.

O'REILLY: So, you're up there with him. You say to Mitt Romney, "Look, when you're debating Barack Obama, based on my experience, here's what you have to do to win." What do you say to the governor.

MCCAIN: Take the offense and attack his record. He cannot defend his record. Take the offense and, by the way, Senator Rob Portman is playing Obama in the practice.

I guarantee you, Portman will prepare him. I hate Rob Portman to this day because of him --

-- Obama in our preparation for our debates.

O'REILLY: But you didn't attack Barack Obama's record. You went light on him. You went light on the Reverend Wright stuff.

You went light on his background where he didn't have many achievements he voted President. You went light on that. In hindsight, was that a mistake.

MCCAIN: I think, I went pretty hard on him about his philosophy on government. Remember, Joe, the plumber and that. But I didn't think it was appropriate to go to the Reverend Wright and all that.

Because I thought, it was about the -- the campaign was about the economy. You know, whenever you lose, there's always lots of postmortems and I'll plead guilty to all of them. The failure of that campaign to win was my fault and mine alone.

O'REILLY: And the reason that you lost.

MCCAIN: Maybe, I didn't run a good enough campaign. Maybe, I wasn't strong enough. I also would point out though, without making any excuses, when the day the stock market went down 700 points, my friend. That was a bad day for our poll.

O'REILLY: You were running against the economy and so is President Obama this time around. He's right where you were. Thank you, Senator. We really appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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