NEW YORK CITY - After spending the day on the campaign trail talking about taking a hatchet to government spending and taxes, presidential candidate Sen. John McCain returned to New York to bury the hatchet with David Letterman. (WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SHOW TONIGHT ON WWW.CBS.COM)
The popular late-night host had been lampooning McCain since Sept. 24, when McCain canceled an appearance, saying he had to return to Washington to address the U.S. financial crisis. However, he then appeared on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, drawing Letterman's comedic wrath.
McCain offered a mea culpa shortly after sitting down onstage and being playfully asked by Letterman, "Can you stay?" McCain told the host "I screwed up" by canceling the earlier appearance on the show.
Letterman milked the situation prior to McCain taking the stage and throughout much of the show, but did say "I'm willing to put this behind us."
The two kept things fairly light-hearted through the early part of three segments, which included perhaps McCain's best line at Letterman's expense.
"Now's not the time to raise anyone's taxes," McCain said. "Except yours."
Letterman did turn the conversation to some serious matters and had some hard questions for McCain, especially about his choice of running mate Sarah Palin and her attacks on Barack Obama over his relationship with William Ayers.
McCain's appearance on "Late Show" wasn't without drama this time around either. There was a two-hour delay flying into the New York area, so McCain got off his campaign plane in Pennsylvania and took a helicopter to be sure to make the show.
Letterman had heaped scorn on McCain for days after the blow-off. He made more jokes about the incident in his monologue and before McCain appeared, including using a prop map humorously tracing McCain's movements after he had canceled the earlier appearance.
Letterman's verbal assault on McCain right after the cancellation was relentless.
At first, he said, he felt like a "patriot" to let McCain off the hook. But after seeing McCain sit for the interview with Couric, and not leave New York until the next day, Letterman unloaded.
"Now I'm feeling like an ugly date," he said. "I feel used. I feel cheap. I feel sullied."
The next day, McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace said the campaign "felt this wasn't a night for comedy."
"We deeply regret offending Mr. Letterman, but our candidate's priority at this moment is to focus on this crisis," Wallace said.
Later that day, Letterman banged away at McCain in his opening monologue.
"You're here on a good night," he told the audience. "So far none of our guests have canceled."
He talked about daredevil David Blaine's feat of hanging upside down in New York's Central Park for 60 hours.
"They just left the guy hanging there," he said. "It's the same thing McCain did to me last night."
He described Paris Hilton - that night's guest whose celebrity was once used in a McCain campaign ad to mock Democrat Barack Obama - as McCain's first choice for a running mate.
"Here's how it works: You don't come to see me? You don't come to see me? Well, we might not see you on Inauguration Day," Letterman said.
Noting that McCain wanted to postpone his first debate with Obama, Letterman joked running mate Sarah Palin wanted to put off her debate with Democrat Joe Biden - until after Election Day. Letterman said Palin's meeting with world leaders at the United Nations was like "take-your-daughter-to-work day."
Letterman's Top 10 list was "surprising facts about Sarah Palin," read by citizens of Wasilla, Alaska, where she was once mayor.
No. 10: Palin "sometimes calls John McCain 'Grandpa.' "