KANSAS CITY While the traveling press corps was shipped off to a barbecue restaurant here, John McCain charmed his way through an interview with a local TV reporter. Surae Chinn of KCTV posed such less-than-penetrating questions as "How important is Missouri?" and "Have you chosen a running mate?" and -- addressing the candidate's wife, Cindy -- "How do you make your marriage work?"
Moments later, though, the Republican candidate seemed to grow annoyed with the Kansas City Star's Steve Kraske, who pressed him on his recent comment that "nothing is off the table" when it comes to strengthening Social Security.
When Kraske said that McCain presumably wasn't ruling out a payroll tax hike, McCain interrupted: "That's presuming wrong." When the reporter rephrased the question, McCain said: "If you want to keep asking me over and over again, you're welcome to."
It was a brief moment of friction that highlighted how the captain of the Straight Talk Express is having a bumpier ride with journalists than when he ran for president eight years ago. The popular image of the campaign -- McCain bantering with national journalists in the back of his bus -- has, in reality, all but vanished. The traveling press is now routinely stiffed in favor of five-minute sit-downs with local reporters.