After a long delay, John McCain's campaign plans to release the 71-year-old Republican's medical history in Phoenix today, but has decided to restrict access to the records to a small number of reporters.
Campaign aides told several news outlets this week that among newspapers, only the Washington Post and the Arizona Republic would be permitted to view the Arizona senator's health records, providing a "pool report" to other print reporters who travel with the candidate.
McCain's health is of keen interest to voters, who frequently ask him during his town hall meetings about his age and whether he has any medical problems. The limited access to documents -- which will not be available to the public -- could raise questions about McCain's pledge to "set a new standard for transparency and accountability."
The campaign has also been under fire for delaying release of the documents, after initially indicating it would release them last year. Then, earlier this year, campaign aides said the records would be available in mid-April. That was pushed to today.
McCain's Democratic opponents -- New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, 60, and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, 46 -- have not released their medical records.
The McCain records will cover the last eight years, including 2000, when McCain underwent more than five hours of surgery to remove a melanoma, a cancerous skin lesion, from his right temple. Doctors conducted exploratory surgery at the time, shortly after McCain withdrew from the 2000 presidential race, to determine if the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. It had not.
At a news conference in Stockton, McCain said Thursday that his health was "excellent" and suggested that voters might see his age as an asset when comparing him with Obama. "Knowledge matters and judgment matters," he said. "I strongly believe that my experience and knowledge and judgment will be a deciding factor in this race."
The campaign will allow television reporters and three news services -- Bloomberg, Reuters and the Associated Press -- to review the records, in addition to the two newspapers. The reporters will have three hours to view about 400 pages and will not be allowed to photocopy them. Other news organizations will have access to a 90-minute conference call with McCain's physicians and online summaries of the records.
McCain's national spokesman, Tucker Bounds, defended the decision to limit access. "For very sensible, logistical reasons we will be hosting several reporters from different mediums to review the records," he said, "and it will be an unprecedented amount of transparency into the good health of a presidential candidate."
The records will not include more than 1,000 pages of medical records that McCain released on a limited basis in 1999 during his first run for the White House.
Those documents included reports from McCain's exams at the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies at the Naval Operational Medicine Institute in Pensacola, Fla. They showed that McCain still suffered some physical ailments from injuries received when he was shot down in North Vietnam and spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war. McCain has arthritis in his shoulders and right knee and has difficulty raising his arms above his head. The records did not show signs of psychological illness from that experience.
McCain's communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, said in an e-mail that the 1999 review, also restricted to a small group of reporters, had been "hailed as both serious and thorough."
"While we cannot satisfy all people all the time," she wrote, "we believe we are making Sen. McCain's medical history public in a thoughtful and substantive manner."