Eight years ago we urged voters in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary to support John McCain. His record since then has left us even more convinced that the Arizona senator should be the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

Not only has the senator continued to live up to the "straight talk" theme of both campaigns, he has provided the country with positive leadership in critical areas. Well known for an independent streak that has led to deviations from the party line, John McCain mainly reflects mainstream conservative values, as evidenced by his calls for less government regulation and a reduction of federal spending, his opposition to tax hikes, his advocacy of Social Security and Medicare reform, his push for an overhaul of the tax code, and his support for a strong defense.

It is in the latter area that the senator, a former Naval aviator who survived more than five years in captivity in Vietnam, where he suffered physical and mental torture, has been the most effective. His was the knowledgeable voice that got the administration's and nation's attention when he spoke out on what was going wrong with the war in Iraq. He also was among the earliest and most steadfast supporters of Gen. David Petraeus' successful 'surge' strategy.

Never one to duck the tough issues, Sen. McCain has taken the lead on a reasonable solution to the illegal immigration dilemma, which he described to us in a recent interview as one of the most heartfelt emotional issues he has dealt with in his 26 years in Congress. His state is among the most adversely impacted, and he knows better than most the need to secure the borders before any new reform legislation goes into effect. He believes the failure to seal the borders as promised in connection with the discredited 1986 immigrant reform effort is at the root of much of the current public frustration.

While political hay can be made by calling for the blanket deportation of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country, that's unrealistic. The senator's more sensible approach calls for deporting the estimated 2 million who have committed crimes while in this country. The remaining 10 million would be punished through fines, required to learn English and to get in line for citizenship behind all others who are here legally. He makes the irrefutable point that it is the federal government's failure to act that is giving the illegal immigrants de facto amnesty.

The McCain spur to congressional action on immigration and other critical issues would be the power of presidential persuasion coupled with his willingness to use his bully pulpit to "call the names" of those who refuse to come to the table. He would preface negotiations, he said, by offering to give all the credit to those willing to work toward a solution. "Politicians," he reminded us, "crave approval." He's also ready to play tough with those who refuse to cooperate by "telling the American people" who "won't sit down with me." That's the kind of straight talk a lot of politicians in Washington would be loath for their constituents to hear.

In fact, the senator clearly feels regular communication with the American people has been sorely lacking. He pledges press conferences at least once every two weeks and also said he would go on television once a week - even if only C-SPAN would cover it - to update the American people "on what's happened where our young people are in harm's way."

In terms of national defense, what he describes as the 'war against radical extremism' would never be far from his thoughts. While he believes al-Qaida is on the run, "it is by no means defeated," and Iraq will continue to be the central battleground. He is encouraged by signs that there is an increased recognition around the world about the nature of the struggle, and he is well equipped to make America's case in the international arena. Certainly as the victim of vicious torture at the hands of the enemy, there is no one more credible to reassure this country and the world "that we will never torture another person in American custody."

He has equal credibility on the domestic side, particularly for his opposition to wasteful spending in general and, specifically, such hot-button, pork-barrel earmarks as a $230 million Alaskan "bridge to nowhere."

The senator notes that he has never asked for an earmark for his state in all his years in Congress and rightly believes that public disenchantment with his party is due to the level of pork-barrel spending that occurred on the Republican watch. He pledges to veto every single piece of legislation that contains an earmark.

What's more, he will make sure the American public knows about such earmarks as the $3 million allocation to study the DNA of bears in Montana and promises to do so with a bit of "good natured" chiding, much in the style of his mentor, Ronald Reagan. We could use more of that kind of humor in Washington.

The 71-year-old senator's also willing to poke a little fun at himself, momentarily pretending to doze off, for example, when the media ask age-related questions, including whether he would be too old to withstand the rigors of being president. In a serious vein he points to the energy level he has displayed during the debates and campaign, noting that age questions should be balanced with those of judgment and experience.

He notes that in the eight years since he first ran, America has been attacked and currently is engaged in two wars. He rightly points out that this is no time for "on the job training."

John McCain correctly gauges the nation's thirst for a problem solver who can cross party lines. He points to Sen. Joe Lieberman's endorsement of him in New Hampshire on national security issues, despite differences on domestic issues, as a "singular" moment in that campaign and as evidence of his ability to attract independent and Democratic votes.

On Saturday, South Carolina voters will once more have the chance to give him the boost he needs to be the Republican nominee in November. Of all the contenders in that primary, he has the best chance of forming bipartisan coalitions to solve this nation's domestic problems and the most credibility and experience in international affairs.

For the good of the country, give tried and trustworthy Sen. John McCain the chance to be president with a much-deserved S.C. Republican primary victory.