John McCain's Advice To 2012 GOP Presidential Field: Attack Your Vulnerabilities Head On

WASHINGTON -- Running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012? Have some sticky issues threatening to disqualify you with voters? Then learn from a "maverick" who once was counted out as too hotheaded for the highest office in the land.

"You have to take the issue head on, whatever it is, and try to put it behind you," Sen. John McCain told reporters at a breakfast Wednesday.

Whether it's Newt Gingrich's murky marital history, Haley Barbour's comments on race or Mitt Romney's Obama-like health care plan, "You have got to confront it directly and then when (reporters) ask the question again the answer is 'I already addressed that issue' and not keep the story alive," said the 2008 GOP standard bearer.

"As a candidate you have to have some honest observers and task them and say okay, what are my vulnerabilities? What do I have to address and confront thoroughly?"

McCain said it often takes giving a major speech or appearance to put the questionable issue to rest. Bill Clinton did it in 1992 when he went on CBS 60 Minutes with the now-secretary of State to diffuse allegations about alleged infidelities in his marriage.

More recently, Barack Obama gave a major speech about race in America to deal with potentially campaign-killing remarks by his minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

McCain also said: "It's obvious" Romney "is going to have to confront the issue of the Massachusetts health care issue" that has caught him so much flak from conservatives in the party. "The one thing you don't want is it lingering, continuing story after story" in the media.

McCain's advice to the GOP field is to surround themselves with honest advisers and pollsters who will do opposition research on themselves before their opponents do it for them. "You have to figure out what the attack ads are going to be," he said.