June 19, 2008

McCain Brings Campaign to Southwest Missouri

By Jo Mannies, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jun. 19--SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Sen. John McCain left little doubt Wednesday about the role Missouri and its voters will play in the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's campaign schedule.

"Missouri will be a battleground state. I will be back and back and back," McCain told about 500 cheering supporters packing an auditorium at Missouri State University, after ending a one-hour forum on energy.

"I need to win here," he said. "I need your vote. I'm asking for it."

A few minutes later, McCain said in an interview that he recognized he had some work to do to win over socially conservative Republicans who make up the party's base in southwest Missouri.

"I will use my friend Mike Huckabee, who is very popular in this part of the state," McCain said, referring to the former Arkansas governor who trounced him in southwest Missouri in the Feb. 5 presidential primary.

McCain said he also would make lots of comparisons between his views, and those of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama.

McCain stressed some of the contrasts during Wednesday's town hall forum.

He won applause when he pledged to "set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants."

McCain faulted past presidents from both parties for failing to sell the environmental and economic virtues of nuclear power to the public.

McCain acknowledged that the nation will need to grapple with how to store and reprocess nuclear waste.

Another obstacle, he said, was "the mind-set of those who prefer to buy time and hope that our energy problems will somehow solve themselves," McCain said. "Senator Obama says, 'I am not a nuclear energy proponent.' I think that makes him a nuclear energy opponent, though he does have a knack for nuance and it's not entirely clear."

McCain called for allowing states to authorize oil companies to engage in more offshore drilling, and promised to expand federal research and investment in clean coal technology. He also made a broad appeal for alternative energy solutions such as wind and hydroelectric power.

But he reaffirmed his opposition to drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWAR.

McCain told audience members, some of them visibly stunned, that ANWAR was too valuable and pristine to be subject to oil drilling.

Answering one man's repeated queries, McCain said: "If they found oil in the Grand Canyon, I wouldn't drill in the Grand Canyon either."

McCain only touched on his proposal to temporarily lift federal taxes on gasoline, observing that it would reduce the cost by at least 18 cents a gallon.

He asserted that much of that money "goes to wasteful, pork barrel, unnecessary projects."

Obama's camp took sharp exception. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a conference call before McCain's appearance that his gas-tax cut would cost Missouri $167 million in federal highway money, and nearly 6,000 related jobs.

"People in Missouri can smell a phony gimmick a mile away," McCaskill said. McCain called McCaskill's jab "a slender reed" that bespoke of her role as one of Obama's leading defenders.

During Wednesday's forum, McCain appeared most comfortable during the question-answer session, as he emphasized his support for continuing the war in Iraq and for making President Bush's tax cuts permanent.

McCain also said he may propose a new federal stimulus package to send more money back to taxpayers. When one woman in the audience asked McCain how he'd pay for all that, the senator returned to one of his favorite topics: federal overspending.

"You've got to restrain spending and be willing to say 'No.'" He added that eliminating congressional earmarks, where legislators stipulate spending for favored projects, would be "a heck of a start."


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