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John McCain, the two-faced dragon

Republican presidential candidate John McCain embraces and rejects Washington.

It's a remarkable dichotomy echoed throughout the Republican establishment, as a party that has held the White House for the past eight years tries to retain its grip in what has shaped up as a change election.

None other than the current president's brother has shown the Republican Party's willingness to deny the past as it looks to the future.

"Reform becomes contagious," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said at a McCain town hall meeting this week in Orlando. "If you start to dream bigger dreams and you start challenging the basic assumptions, you can change how things work, and we've done it in Florida, and the Good Lord knows we need to do it in Washington, D.C., and John McCain is the right guy at the right time to make that happen."

The Good Lord knows we need reform in Washington?

Did the Democrats control the White House for the past eight years, or both chambers of Congress for the first six of them?

No, Republicans did.

McCain has long considered himself a political maverick, and there's no doubt that the Arizona senator has bucked the system - especially later in his career.

A guy once close to the establishment over time has challenged the institutions of Congress with campaign finance legislation and other reform measures.

A character so prominent in his party he could credibly run for its 2000 presidential nomination was enough of a bipartisan figure that Democrat John Kerry considered McCain as a running mate during the 2004 election.

This time around, though, McCain is projecting a dual image: the outside insider. A 25-year veteran of the House of Representatives and Senate, a white man like all the rest of the country's presidents to date, McCain is trying to fend off a 44-year-old, first-term senator angling to become the first black candidate to reach the Oval Office.

It has prompted almost melodic speechmaking and statements.

He sounds like the new capital tour guide for his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"I can't wait to introduce her to Washington, D.C. I can't wait," he said to cheers Monday in Jacksonville.

He sounds like he has never set foot in the city himself.

"The word's going out, my friends: The old-boy network, the pork-barrelers, the earmarkers, my friends, the word is, `Change is coming,"' McCain said. "There's two mavericks coming to Washington, and we're going to shake it up."

He says he has the Washington skill set needed to right the country's Wall Street woes.

"I was the chairman on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for six years," he told reporters aboard his "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus amid Monday's market meltdown. "That's the committee that oversights our economy - transportation, science, telecommunications, airlines - all of the factors that drive our economy."

And he distances himself from the administration of the Republican president who has endorsed him.

"Too many firms on Wall Street have been able to count on casual oversight by regulatory agencies in Washington. And there are so many of those regulators that the responsibility for oversight is scattered, unfocused and ineffective," he told a rally crowd Tuesday in Tampa, Florida.

There are even times when McCain does both - squeeze in and draw out - in the same thought.

It sounds the note he hopes voters will hear on Election Day, that of the experienced newcomer.

"I know how to fix it. I know how to fix the corruption," he said of the nation's economic problems during an appearance Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show. "I've been fighting it the whole time I've been in Congress."

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