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'Rambunctious' McCain says he had chip on shoulder

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has a reputation for sometimes losing his temper, and based on his speech on Tuesday, he was even worse in high school in the 1950s.

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) greets supporters at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Nashua January 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files)

McCain is on a nostalgic tour this week of places that were instrumental to his upbringing as he tries to reintroduce himself to Americans, and grab some headlines while Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dominate news coverage with their battle on who will face McCain in the November election.

Arizona Sen. McCain returned to Episcopal High School near Washington, where he graduated in 1954, and told students about being judged by his peers as "the worst rat," a title rendered to him as a first-year student for piling up demerits and other acts of immaturity.

McCain said he arrived at the private boarding school as a "pretty rambunctious boy, with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder." And he said he would respond aggressively when challenged.

Some colleagues in the U.S. Senate who have felt his wrath might agree.

"In all candor, as an adult I've been known to forget occasionally the discretion expected of a person of my years and station when I believe I've been accorded a lack of respect I did not deserve," he said.

If his detractors had known him at Episcopal, he said with a smile, "they might marvel at the self-restraint and mellowness I developed as an adult."

McCain, 71, who spent 5 1/2 years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, is using the trip to tell Americans he is a flawed individual who respects duty, honor and sacrifice for the good of the country.

He visits the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Wednesday, where he graduated fifth from the bottom of his class, then goes on to Florida, where he trained as a pilot, and back home to Arizona, where his political career began.

"I have been a very imperfect public servant," McCain said. "I have always tried to do well, I always try to do better, but I have made more than my share of mistakes."

During a question-and-answer session with the students, a young woman asked him why he was holding an obviously campaign event at the high school, saying she had been told it was not to be a political event.

"This meeting is over," McCain joked.

Then he said he was on the tour to emphasize values and principles that guided him and to offer a vision of how to tackle challenges, and he apologized "if you are unwillingly in attendance here."

McCain is expected next week to offer a plan for helping homeowners who are having trouble paying their mortgage bills due to adjustable-rate loans, the central cause of the current housing crisis.

Democrats have criticized him for not offering more details on what he would do to help repair the U.S. economy. A broader economic speech is expected later in April.

McCain, in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," gave some idea of what he was talking about.

"I think we can have many procedures for doing so. Having lenders and borrowers sit down together and the lending institutions having the ability to provide some relief; maybe some other incentives for people to stay in their own homes, which I'll be presenting in the next few days," he said.

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