Cindy McCain at Full Throttle

Cindy McCain: Her husband John McCain’s race for the White House may be losing steam, but she’s not. The presidential candidate’s wife speaks her mind.

By Paul Alexander
But he’s doing what he wants, and he’s good at it."At 53, McCain has a new sense of urgency, of perspective. "Life experience changes you," she muses. "When we started all this, I was 26, 27 years old. I was very naive. What life has taught me is that things aren’t always as you see them; you need to be aware. Politics does that to you."Healing After Her StrokeThe day before our outing at the racecourse, McCain and I settle onto the terrace of her new home, located off a main drag in one of Phoenix’s newer neighborhoods. Each room in the sprawling, well-appointed condominium is tidy in the extreme, with not an Indian throw rug or a campaign memento out of place. The family moved here late last year; it’s the same size as their previous home in an older part of the city, but easier to care for because Cindy no longer has to oversee any yard work or outside maintenance. The transition to the condominium was difficult; the McCains had taken over Cindy’s childhood home when they married, so she had lived there all of her life. Only recently did she work up the nerve to drive by the old place, which, she was startled to see, had been all but razed by the new owners.Today, wearing a simply cut pink cotton dress with a single strand of pearls, McCain looks toned and healthy — thanks, she believes, to exercise (an hour a day of weights or cardio), diet (no more salt or sugar), and some quality time behind the wheel."It’s called drift racing," she says of her hobby, adding that her elder son, Jack, bought her professional driving lessons for her 50th birthday. "It was three years ago, right after my stroke. I was really hesitant. I thought, well, I’m weak. But he said, ‘Mom, I want to do this with you. You can do this. It’ll be good for you.’"It’s not about speed, she says. "It’s this new Japanese style. Basically, it’s skidding and spinning around," she explains, "so that you don’t, number one, roll; number two, skid off the track; and number three — you know — screw your car up. It’s really fun." And, as it turned out, great rehabilitation as well, "both mentally and physically, because I had to use everything I was having trouble using."McCain shows almost no signs of permanent damage from her stroke, which has been attributed to her failure to take her blood pressure medication regularly. "I was feeling fine, so I only took the medication once in a while," she notes. In conversation, she will occasionally have trouble remembering certain facts, especially from the recent past, and if you look closely you realize she cannot make her right hand into a complete fist, which has affected her handwriting, if not her ability to grasp a gearshift knob. "It’s not bad," she says, describing the damage to her hand. "I can function. I have short-term memory loss. I can remember all the major details of my life, but I sometimes can’t remember what happened last week."In the immediate wake of the stroke, McCain’s prospects did not look so good. Her right leg was dragging, and she had no use of her right arm. After a few months of physical rehabilitation, she decided to start hiking the trails behind Squaw Peak Mountain, which is visible in the near distance from the terrace. Then she announced that she was going to Coronado, a manicured resort town in San Diego Bay. "I’m going to take the summer, and I’m going to fix myself," she told her family. She stayed for four and a half months. "My husband was not happy with me," she recalls. "He didn’t understand … but it was a good thing for me to do." A Family HistoryTaking herself away from her family for such a long time was an unusually bold move for Cindy McCain, the only daughter of Marguerite and James Hensley (a homemaker and a beverage distributor). Her bond with her parents, especially her father, was so strong that, even after she had graduated from the University of Southern California and was teaching elementary school back in Phoenix, she had her parents accompany her on a vacation to Hawaii. It was there, in the summer of 1979, that she met John McCain, a handsome, charismatic, 42-year-old Navy lieutenant commander who was working as a liaison in the U.S. Senate. "Up until then, I had dated very nice men from college," Cindy recalls.

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