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More than anything else, though, the country may find itself viewing Iraq through McCain's eyes as it follows his son's progress. And nothing is more powerful for a candidate than sympathy. Nothing, too, is more irritating to McCain, who sounds annoyed by the interest in his son's enlistment. In mid-June, he asked TIME not to run this story, and relented only when it appeared that other organizations might break the news. In response to most of the heavier questions about Jimmy's motivation and the influence he may have felt from his family, McCain doesn't want to play. "He's an 18-year-old kid," he says, and he no doubt remembers what that means. The Senator was such a hell-raiser as a plebe and a pilot that he was nearly forced out of the academy.
Whatever Jimmy's enrollment says about him, his father or the country, candidate McCain is letting it speak for itself, for the most part. Often the clan gathers for a popular July 4 barbecue at McCain's cabin in Arizona. But this year McCain canceled the picnic, and the Senator, his wife Cindy and Jimmy went to the Quinault Indian reservation in Washington State. "We went fishing and hiking and enjoyed the rain forest there as well as the salmon fishing, although we didn't catch any salmon," he says. "Cindy and I were able to spend a weekend with him. And it was fine."