(CNN) – Sen. John McCain knows his way around rough politics: an opponent started rumors during the 2000 presidential race that he fathered an illegitimate African-American, and a CNN fact check called false his 2008 vice presidential pick's assertion that now-President Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists."
But the veteran politician from Arizona – first elected to the Senate in 1986 – said Sunday that the current Republican presidential campaign is the most brutal race he has seen, fueled in part by super PACs that have rivaled campaigns in spending on this election.
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"This is the nastiest I have ever seen," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The two-time presidential contender is not watching this GOP primary entirely from the sidelines: McCain is among several high-profile political figures actively stumping for Mitt Romney, and one of his roles has been to attack former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on behalf of the former Massachusetts governor.
"When you have a Las Vegas casino mogul - by the way, who gets part of his money from Macao - pouring $20 million into a campaign, obviously that drives up people's unfavorables," McCain said of donations to a pro-Gingrich group by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife. A casino in the Chinese semi-autonomous region of Macao is owned by a company under Adelson's control. Forbes lists him as the seventh richest person in the United States.
Another super PAC favoring Gingrich, Winning Our Future, spent $1.3 million on advertising, most of it critical of Romney, in South Carolina, according to CNN media consultant CMAG. A source close to Adelson told CNN in January that the donations were with "no instruction" and that Adelson had no role in strategy or advertisement content.
McCain, co-author of campaign finance legislation known as "McCain-Feingold" that limited corporate and private donations, has been harshly critical of the U.S. Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision that cleared the way for super PAC spending. He predicted Sunday "there will be scandals and then maybe we will reform again."
The super PAC funding, as well as weakness on Romney's part, is keeping Gingrich's campaign afloat, McCain said.
"Mitt Romney will tell you he has to do a better job and he has to focus on the economy. And he has been giving speeches on the economy and jobs, and I think he is improving dramatically as a candidate," he added.
– CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.
These primaries have received too much press coverage. And there have been maybe 15 debates already. I would call it nasty, rather more like uninspiring. There's so much coverage that many have forgotten the various candidates'issue positions.
When John McCain chose Sarah Barracuda as his running mate, that increased all the negativity and dirty politics. She introduced some vile and hateful ideas, vilified anyone she could think of, and was the most sarcastic, negative person ever to be introduced as a running mate. He lost that election because of her and what she spewed in the election. Now people have no boundaries in what they say and do in the political world and it is only going to get worse if the public doesn't demand the politicians stop it.
Ron Paul is the best and true candidate for change.
It would be wonderful if the extremism and militancy of the current GOP were to spark some sort of 60's-type backlash, in which people would go out of their way to give a hoot about one another. Wonderful, but unlikely. I expect Obama to be re-elected, but I don't see a democratic landslide in Congress. Hopefully the president has something major planned for his next term.
Shouldn't McCain be making up lies about people's service record?
Senator McCain has a short memory. He and his partner, Palin, were very nasty during their campaign. In fact, I blame their campaign for what is happening today with these other GOP idiots. It gave these guys the idea to do what they are doing.
Just wait for the fall campaign . It will be the nastiest, most deceit-filled, and money soaked campaign in American history. Cheap shots about religion and race will only be the tip of the iceberg.
The Republicans are pandering to the lowest common denominator in the United States, Tea Partiers, and he acts like he is surprised by how bad it is? Does McCain not realize that there is an underbelly to any country that delights in the troubles given to any group but themselves?
That's because the GOP is being run by nasty people these days.
Couldn't happen to a nicer, more deserving group of people !
With all the hatred toward President Obama – simply because he's tanned – and the Supreme's passing of Citizen's United, making corporations PEOPLE... you expected a mild pillow fight?
Just wait until the General Election!
I'll be surprised if you don't see an all out race war!
The war that the GOPers are waging on Americans, makes the republican primary comparable to the Tet Offensive.
It is only going to get worse because Mitt's Super Pac has hired Larry McCarthy, the kind of the negative ads. Mitt has all the money in the world to spend, spend and spend. People, he talks out of both sides of his mouth. DO NOT TRUST HIM.
John McCain has a hand in this whether he wants to pretend he's above it or not. He put Palin on the ticket and unleashed the "Pals around with terrorists" insanity on the country in 08. I remember how he would get a shocked look on his face when one of his supporters would launch into some of the nuttiness that his own campaign was feeding into. He likes to believe himself above it all but he's modern GOP through and through.
The mirror sure looks ugly aye?
Oh Debby, 1st u made 3 points Not 2. #2 is a run on going to a statement that McCain is not relative. Well 1st my dear, McCain is VERY RELATIVE! You r speaking about a Great man who will either be the Next VP of the USA or Sec of State, CIA Director etc. 2nd: Every comment thus far has been anti repub or anti McCain. I just realized cuz altho CNN is a Great News Source its still CNN.
Not even close to the nastiness that George W. Bush did to you in 2000. Not the nastiness of Palin claiming Obama palled around with terrorists.
What else can you expect when all that you have are the same old tired policies that dragged us to a near depression. The repubs are doing what they do best – personally attack the opponent with lies and distortions of the truth. It's time to wake up America, country first.
Four, seriously. Get educated on the issues. You clearly no nothing on the economy or even less what has been happening in the U.S. over the last eight years. I could go on for paragraphs about how the economy has improved greatly since Obama took office, but that would bore everyone to death. Go take economics 101 and then we can talk.
The 2012 primary season will go down as a model of civility once the Republicans focus all their firepower on the Democrats instead of shooting up each other. The Democrats may be slightly nicer, but only because they don't need to produce any new attack ads. They can just rerun what the Republicans are currently saying about each other.
It's way too soon to put another plunderer in the White House, the Treasury is still recovering from the last one. At least Romney has more competence on his resume, but he may as well have the explicit job description of 'Bandit' on there.
Obama hasn't been nasty.
McCain thinks his party has been nasty!!! Just wait until August in Tampa, that will be the time to understand very well what it means to be nasty.
Sorry to break it to you guys but democrats don't care about you either. All of them are owned by corporations and banks.
It is getting bloody, muddy and rude. The problem is as McCain has stated; there is too much money in the contests and that drives it negative so quickly. There is no chance for those that don't have the money or friends with money to run for office that can do a better job than those that have the money.