McCain, Letterman make nice (sort of)

John McCain told David Letterman that “I screwed up” by canceling a “Late Show” appearance three weeks ago, then faced a round of questioning about Sarah Palin and his campaign tactics.

Not willing to risk the TV host's wrath again, the Republican presidential candidate rented a helicopter to fly to New York after a weather delay grounded his plane in Philadelphia. He had canceled a Sept. 24 appearance during the brief suspension of his campaign because of the economic crisis, and Letterman has been hammering him since.

Although Letterman said he was “willing to put this behind us,” he came after McCain hard with questions. He asked whether Palin was his first choice as vice president.

“Absolutely,” McCain answered.

He said that he didn't know her well before choosing her but that he was impressed by her reputation as a reformer.

Letterman repeatedly pressed McCain on her qualifications, asking if he was confident she could lead the country in a time of crisis.

“In all due respect, one of the people I admired most was an obscure governor of a Southern state called Arkansas and he turned out to be a fairly successful president,” McCain said, complimenting Bill Clinton. “Ronald Reagan was a cowboy, no experience in international affairs. I think she has shown leadership.”

Letterman also asked about Palin's claim that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “palled around with terrorists,” and McCain backed her up, saying his opponent need to better explain his relationship with former Weather Underground activist William Ayers.

“Did you not have a relationship with Gordon Liddy?” Letterman asked about the Watergate burglar.

McCain said he knew him. Then, after a commercial break, McCain said, “I know Gordon Liddy. He paid his debt, he went to prison. … I'm not in any way embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy.”

“You understand the same case could be made of your relationship with him as is being made with William Ayers?” Letterman said.

Letterman appeared to ridicule McCain about the implication that Obama and Ayers had a relationship.

“Are they double-dating? Are they going to dinner? What are they doing?” Letterman asked. “Are they driving across country?”

“Maybe going to Denny's,” McCain said.

Letterman said that Obama was 8 when Ayers was 29, and McCain appeared exasperated. “There's millions of words said in a campaign. C'mon, Dave,” he said.

McCain said he thought Palin would appear on NBC's “Saturday Night Live.” “Probably get more of an audience than our debate did,” he said.