Fresh off his big win in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, John McCain was fighting hard in South Carolina. A win there might have catapulted him past George W. Bush to the Republican nomination. So he side-stepped one of the state's hottest issues: the Confederate battle flag flying above the capitol in Columbia.
"I don't believe it's the role of someone from outside South Carolina and someone running for president to come into this state and tell the people of South Carolina what to do with their business when it comes to the flag," he said at the time.
"Some say the flag represents slavery. But men fought for it under what they thought was a noble cause. I'd say it stands for heritage and sacrifice."
That was then. This year, McCain is on his Mea Culpa Tour.
In his new book, "Hard Calls," which profiles courageous decisions by people from Harry Truman to Reinhold Niebuhr, he writes about a hard call he didn't make.
"When I ran for president in 2000," he writes, "I took a position I knew to be wrong on a controversial public issue that had a moral component because I thought it might help me win the primary .... In addition to the fact that it did me little political good, it caused me to be ashamed of myself, and it's a little late in life to bear that kind of burden."
McCain has revisited his decision in a series of interviews. Here's what he told 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley:
PELLEY: Let me bring up another issue that surrounded South Carolina in the year 2000. There was a political issue, a local issue about whether the Confederate flag should fly over the capitol. You waffled on that.
SEN. MCCAIN: Yes, worse than waffled.
PELLEY: What do you mean?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I said that it was strictly a state issue and clearly knowing that it wasn't.
PELLEY: That's not what you believed in your heart?
SEN. MCCAIN: No.
PELLEY: What did you believe in your heart?
SEN. MCCAIN: That it was a symbol to many of ... a very offensive symbol to many, many Americans.
PELLEY: Why didn't you say that?
SEN. MCCAIN: I'm sure for all the wrong reasons.
PELLEY: And those wrong reasons would be what, sir?
SEN MCCAIN: For ambition.
McCain said much the same this month on NPR's Morning Edition.
"I'd call it a hard call that I didn't make," he said of the flag issue. "The hard call would have been said: This flag is an affront to people all over America, as well as in South Carolina, and it's not right to be there. I should've made the hard call."
My question: Will McCain's candor about 2000 make a difference in 2008? What do you think?