As a presidential candidate, distancing himself from his party was the politically astute move. But now that he's facing a daunting primary challenge from the right, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is working to shed a label he once vigorously embraced.

"I never considered myself a maverick," he told Newsweek's David Margolick in interview to be published in next week's issue. "I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities."

McCain earned a reputation in the media as a maverick earlier in his career for breaking with his party on issues such as tax cuts for the wealthy and campaign finance reform. And he deemed it his path to victory in 2008, persistently painting himself as such in campaign speeches, rallies and ads.

In one 30-second spot that fall, he characterized the McCain-Palin ticket as a team of "original mavericks" fighting for "real change," touting examples of the two rebuffing their party's conventional wisdom and criticizing its leaders.

After a gracious concession speech on election day in which he pledged to work with President-elect Obama to bridge partisan divides, McCain soon proceeded to outspokenly -- and at times furiously -- criticize his rival's legislative initiatives.

The reason was simple: his primary opponent this year -- former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) -- is a favorite of the GOP's core right-wing base, which has long distrusted McCain for his past lack of allegiance to the party.

Responding to the biggest threat yet to his quarter-century long Senate career, McCain has tacked considerably rightward on a host of issues in the last year, including climate change, gays in the military and his support for the 2008 bank bailout.

His shift in posturing and recent spate of anger toward the Obama and Democrats has helped him open up a fairly comfortable, 15-point lead against Hayworth in a recent poll, after the two were neck and neck late last year.

McCain has also received assists from his former vice presidential pick Sarah Palin and recently-minted Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), both of whom carry notable clout with the GOP's conservative base, holding separate campaign rallies with the two in recent weeks.

Making life more awkward for the Arizona senator was the fact that Palin, who in 2008 characterized their ticket as "a team of mavericks," used the label several times again to describe him at their dually-held rally late last month.

The following is McCain's "Original Mavericks" ad from 2008, uploaded to YouTube.

"I never considered myself a maverick," he told me. "I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities."