McCain almost gave a one-term pledge, but balked at the last minute. An excerpt from Ambinder:
When he formally announced his presidential candidacy last year, Sen. John McCain was inches away from making an unprecedented pledge: if he were elected, he would serve only one term as president.
It could have been an earth-shifting moment for the campaign and the primary. At the time, McCain’s fundraising pace was falling well short of its target and Republicans were not treating McCain as the frontrunner.
The idea to serve one term had long been discussed among top advisers, and McCain was on board.
A one-term pledge was set to be the central thread of his presidential campaign, and Mark Salter, McCain’s chief speechwriter, crafted an announcement speech around it.
But less than a day before he was set to speak in New Hampshire on April 25, McCain ordered his aides to excise the paragraphs describing the pledge.
“Lots of ideas get raised with the candidate. He made a decision and we didn’t do it,” Salter said in a brief telephone interview this afternoon. He said that “no speech is final until the candidate signs off.”
Several of McCain’s closest friends, including former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had urged him not to tie his hand by making a one-term pledge, and McCain agreed with them.
McCain’s announcement speech, in Portsmouth, included several hints of the theme. McCain said “won’t judge myself by how many elections I’ve won, but by how well I’ll keep my promises to you.” He said he’d “challenge myself and each member of Congress to wake up each morning and ask ourselves: will we remember today as the finest day of our public life.” He said he did not “seek the office out of a sense of entitlement.”