When presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain turns 72 on Friday, it's likely his Democratic opponents will make sure no one forgets his birthday. But McCain beat them to the punch line Monday night with his own jokes during a return appearance to NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
McCain had barely taken his seat when Leno offered him early birthday wishes: "We were going to have a cake, but the fire marshal said 'that many candles?' " The late-night host added that they'd ribbed McCain with "a few jokes" about his age during the campaign.
"A few!" McCain said with mock indignation. "A few thousand jokes."
"I've got one," the candidate continued. "My Social Security number is 8."
The Arizona senator made his TV cameo at the Burbank studio as the Democrats opened their convention in Denver. For McCain, it was a low-key day that included an eyebrow-raising endorsement by the Puerto Rican reggaeton star Daddy Yankee at a high school in Phoenix and fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Sacramento, where McCain disclosed that his wife is headed to the war-torn Republic of Georgia to assess humanitarian needs.
After speaking to the American Legion in Phoenix this morning and to a San Diego fundraiser, McCain will return to his retreat near Sedona, Ariz., for campaign filming and convention planning.
The appearance before a friendly audience on "The Tonight Show" gave McCain a chance to respond publicly to his widely ridiculed gaffe last week about how many homes he owns.
In an interview with Politico, McCain said he'd have to check with his staff before providing an answer.
When Leno pressed McCain about how many houses he has, the senator tried to shift the conversation.
"I'm proud of my record of service to this country. And it has nothing to do with houses. What it has to do with [is] putting Americans in houses and keeping them in their homes," McCain said, drawing applause from the crowd.
In all, John and Cindy McCain and their children own eight homes held in trusts, limited liability companies and partnerships.
At McCain's morning appearance at the Phoenix high school, there were squeals and giggles from teenage girls -- not for him, but for Daddy Yankee, the reggaeton star.
The audience of more than 100 students seemed sleepy for McCain's opening remarks about the importance of voting and the national leaders who have come from Arizona.
But they perked up when he promised a "special guest" and "a great American success story."
McCain built up the suspense by withholding the guest's name at first, but then gave it away, saying, "One of his most famous songs, I know you're very familiar with: 'Gasolina' " -- drawing gasps of surprise from the crowd -- and then finally said, "Well, here he is, Daddy Yankee."
Though McCain has sometimes shown surprising familiarity with rap stars and pop culture references because of the musical tastes of his daughters, it is unlikely that the conservative Republican would have made a point of mentioning the song had he known that the "Gasolina" lyrics are loaded with sexual references. Although there's some debate about what the word "gasolina" means in this context, one thing is certain: It's not a petroleum product.
Asked whether McCain knew about the sexual allusions, a campaign spokesman said he had no comment.
Reston reported from Phoenix, Sacramento and Beverly Hills.