Republican presidential hopeful John McCain says he would "prefer" that the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll didn’t exist, but McCain plans to "play by the rules" and participate. 

"I think it’s one of the great ways for the Iowa Republican Party to raise money, but it’s part of the process," McCain said during an interview. "Would I prefer that there wasn’t an Iowa Straw Poll? Probably, because I could be doing other things. But that’s what the party wants and that’s what the party’s going to get."

Eight years ago, McCain skipped campaigning in Iowa and called the 1999 Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll as a sham because candidates essentially buy entry tickets for the straw poll voters. McCain, a senator from Arizona, is still skeptical of the concept, but willing to play this time around. "I don’t set the rules. I try to play by the rules. I couldn’t compete here in 2000 and compete in New Hampshire both. We simply did not have the assets or the capability," McCain said. "Now we’re building an organization here that we think will make us viable. Now, whether I can actually win or not or whatever — we’ve got a long ways to go."

McCain is in Iowa today, the last stop on his tour of states which hold the lead-off events in the presidential campaign. McCain dismisses the idea that an early stumble in the Iowa Caucuses or any of the other early states’ contests will derail his campaign. "I don’t know if you have to finish first, second, third or fourth," McCain said. "I’ll never forget when Bill Clinton came in either second or third…and he was the ‘comeback kid,’ so it depends on the perception of how you do."

McCain, though, acknowledged his campaign has hit some rough spots. "In campaigns there’s ups and downs and ups and downs. The key to it is to just keep a steady strain — as we used to say in the Navy — keep a steady strain," McCain said.

McCain recently drew fire for joking about bombing Iran — by changing the lyrics of the song "Barbara Ann" and singing "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb. Bomb, Bomb Iran" at a campaign event. And during an appearance this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart McCain joked about planting an IED — an improvised explosive device, a comment which drew more critism.

But McCain isn’t apologizing. "Look, a sense of humor got me through some very difficult situations in my life," McCain said. "I think most Americans appreciate a sense of humor."

McCain spoke over the noon hour to employees of a Des Moines insurance company. He’ll be in Sioux City tonight for a town hall meeting.