July 31, 2008
McCain: 'I work for you and the country I love'
Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain, the senator from Arizona, brought his campaign to Racine today, to an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 at Memorial Hall. He delivered what the Associated Press referred to as "his standard stump speech" and then took questions from the audience in a Town Hall format for 30 minutes.
I lost count of how many times he was interrupted by applause. Many.
Some of the key points he made during his half-hour speech:
"I work for you and the country I love."
"I fought for the surge strategy -- I spoke against my party on this issue -- and it's working. We may have the lowest casualties in July since the war began." McCain, a POW during the Vietnam War -- as the audience was reminded with touching videos shown before he arrived -- insisted, "I hate war. I'm going to end this war and bring our troops home," but only after establishing a democracy in Iraq.
Two days after Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, was indicted on charges of accepting more than $250,000 illegally, McCain spoke out against "the corruption that exists in our national Congress today. We have former members of Congress in prison." Realizing that his comment might not be appreciated by his fellow senators, he added, "I didn't win the title of Miss Congeniality."
McCain, who said he likes and respects the presumed Democratic nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, pointed out differences between the two of them. One key difference: their approach to earmarks. "In two years, he's proposed nearly $1 billion in pork barrel spending for his state. I have never asked for a pork barrel earmark," he said, adding, "I'll veto every single pork barrel bill that comes before my desk." The audience gave him a standing ovation. Another difference is their position on off-shore oil drilling; McCain is for it, Obama is not.
Obama says one thing, but does another, McCain said. "I asked Sen. Obama to travel across this country with me and engage in town hall meetings. He has refused to do so, and yesterday -- in case you missed it -- he wanted to have a duel. I'm not sure exactly what weapons he had in mind."
The subject of energy came up again and again, and McCain made the case for nuclear. "Nuclear power is safe," he said, noting that France gets 80% of its power that way. Later he said he would build 45 nuclear plants in the U.S. by 2030.
Town Hall questions began after 30 minutes. I counted 19 questions, although some of them were merely statements, like one young man's: "I don't have a question, but I want to say to my friends that I talked to the next president."
The first question asked got the biggest laugh. "We love you and wish you the best, but we've got a big problem in Wisconsin. Would you talk to Ted Thompson and Brett Favre?" McCain handled it well. "I've jumped into lots of controversies in my time," he said, "but I'm not so dumb I'm gonna jump into that one."
Some of the Q&A went like this:
Asked about energy prices and the proposed carbon tax, McCain responded: "I do not favor a carbon tax. Who is being hurt the most? The poor, driving older cars. Congress is deadlocked on energy, but they're not going to miss their August recess," he said (sorta ignoring the fact that he's part of Congress...) He gave a strong endorsement to "green technology," like "wind, tide, solar and alternative fuels. Let's give every American a $5,000 tax credit" to buy an efficient car, he said.
Asked if he would release more funds for "Christian Choice Schools," McCain said: "I support all choice; the civil rights issue of the 20th Century is education. Too many of the worst schools are in the lowest income areas." He said he's for Charter schools, vouchers, home schooling. "Competition" will improve the schools he said, noting that "Obama called this 'nonsense.' "
A teen-aged girl said, "I'm a teen and I have to say Obama terrifies me." McCain responded: "I respect Obama, but we have stark differences."
Asked by a college student what he would do about the high cost of tuition, McCain said: "We have to have a brake on inflation." And then he suggested the country encourage young people to serve the country as volunteers, in return for "increased educational benefits and incentives." He also wants to make student loans more available, especially for those studying in math and science.
Asked by a young woman from the Lake County YMCA, "how are you going to combat poverty in our economic recession, McCain listed four points: "Get spending under control, keep taxes low, focus on energy independence, make health care affordable and available to every American."
At the end of about 30 minutes, McCain wrapped up by thanking the crowd. "I have learned more from this meeting than you have. I believe in the future of this country."
And then, having come here from Denver and a fund-raiser in Kansas City, he was off to Florida.
Preliminaries: The crowd was entertained by Cheryl McCrary, who with her Heir-Born Praise Band sang three songs, Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and "God Bless America."
The crowd was warmed up by Reince Priebus, state GOP party chairman, who welcomed McCain "to the battleground of the battlegroud state of Wisconsin." He compared the positions of Obama and McCain and asked a series of rhetorical questions, like: "Who do you trust to keep our taxes down... and provide American oil..." After a few, the audience picked up the chant, "John McCain!" "We need a man who's never voted for a tax hike, not once in his life," Priebus said.
McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, was introduced by Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds, and then she in turn introduced McCain who, she said, epitomizes "hope, courage, generosity, spirit and most importantly, heart."
"I hope I'm introducing you to the next president of the United States," she said.
McCain made an introduction of his own. Before the Town Hall meeting, he met with the Waterford delegate to the Democratic National Convention who was defrocked by the state party because she wanted to vote for McCain: Debra Bartoshevich, her 16-year-old daughter and Bartoshevich's father. The meeting took place at at Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop downtown.
Memorial Hall is the same venue Barack Obama chose for his stop in Racine, back in February. The building has hosted other candidates as well. David Rowland remembers hearing Thomas E. Dewey there in 1948 -- before the election everyone said was his for the taking. So Dewey played it safe, careful not to say anything controversial. In Racine, he gave a speech about agriculture, "even though there wasn't a single farmer in the hall," according to Rowland. We all know how that election turned out.
Jim Walczak, Civic Center executive director, said McCain's rental of Memorial Hall will cost about $4,500, because of the amount of labor involved in setting it up and the rental of an overflow room, whih turned out not to be needed. Obama apparently was more frugal; his rental came to $3,800. Walczak doesn't take sides: "It's green, they pay, I'm happy."
Before McCain arrived at the Town Hall meeting -- on the dot of noon as his schedule had promised -- the audience was shown a series of videos about his life -- especially his years as a Vietnam War POW, and his refusal to accept early release from the "Hanoi Hilton" (because his father was an admiral). One of the most moving moments was an interview with his mother -- who initially had believed he was killed in the crash of his jet, shot down by the North Vietnamese. Later he showed up on their propaganda video in a huge body cast, both arms, one leg broken. Said his mother, "When I was told he was captured, it was the best news I ever had."
One final note: Lindsay Fiori of the Journal Times -- I think she's just an intern -- live-blogged the event very impressively. Her running report is HERE.