July 24, 2008

McCain Straight Talks Wilkes Barre: GOP Hopeful Credits Bush for Decrease in Oil Prices

By Andrew M. Seder, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Jul. 24--WILKES-BARRE -- Presidential hopeful John McCain, making a campaign stop at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, credited President George W. Bush's lifting of a ban on offshore drilling for the recent drop in oil prices and said Congress needs to do the same.

Talking to the approximately 800 in attendance at the town hall meeting, the Republican senator said "Americans are hurting very badly" and said the rising price of oil is a big reason for it.

"This is an economic issue, it is an environmental issue and it is a national security issue," he said of the nation's oil situation.

Besides talking about the cost and America's dependency on foreign oil, McCain spent most of his one-hour appearance discussing the war in Iraq, Social Security, education and his disdain for pork barrel spending, among other topics. He took questions from nine audience members and allowed some debate on his answers.

That style impressed John Ord, of Harmony Township, Susquehanna County. Ord said the way McCain allowed the questioner "to hold onto the microphone after asking the question so he can debate back and forth with you was awesome."

Others said they were most impressed with McCain's personality, his sense of humor and his stage presence.

Standing in front of risers, an "Energy Solutions" banner, and a large American flag attached to the rear curtain, McCain walked back and forth across the front of the stage. He never paused for a drink of water -- in fact he didn't even have a bottle or glass on stage -- and never sat in the stool that was provided.

"I think he was cool and comfortable," said Paul Stebbins of West Pittston.

Stebbins arrived at the Kirby Center at 5:30 a.m. and found himself fourth in line. Wearing a McCain pin and sticker on his shirt, he was one of 50 people invited to sit on the stage behind McCain.

Joining him on stage was Marissa Stopyra of Lackawaxen, Pike County, who left her home at 3:30 a.m. to see McCain. She was third in line and after the event was fortunate enough to have the Arizona senator autograph a picture that appeared in a newspaper.

She said she hoped to get a close seat, "but I didn't expect to be sitting four feet away from him."

Oil wasn't the only major topic McCain touched on, but it was the issue he said is "on everybody's mind in this room."

He reiterated his support of a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax, saying the 18.4-cent-per-gallon drop would help those struggling to pay their bills. He said the chief complaint among his fellow congressmen is the concern over the loss of revenue generated by the tax, mostly because they count on those funds for earmark projects. That's the attitude in Washington, he said, and one he hopes to change if elected.

"We might not be able to fund some of those pork-barrel projects Congress likes to spend money on," McCain said with a smile, noting he has never asked for or received pork barrel spending in his 25-year congressional career.

If elected, he would push for line-item veto power and would use a pen given to him by Ronald Reagan to veto parts of any bills that crossed his desk that included pork barrel projects, he said.

He mentioned Reagan a handful of times and reminded people that in the 1980s the conservative president and liberal Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill put politics aside to get things done in the best interest of the country. That kind of partnership, he said, needs to be re-established between parties and the White House and Capitol Hill. He promised that type of working relationship would be a hallmark of his presidency.

He went as far as to say he would urge Senate and House leadership of both parties to take the credit if it means passing beneficial legislation.

He criticized Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, his presumptive presidential opponent on Nov. 4, for opposing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. McCain previously touted the idea on the campaign trail but on Wednesday went a step further. He credited Bush's July 14 decision to lift the 18-year-old executive order banning coastal drilling as a major reason gas prices have begun to drop.

A barrel of light, sweet crude oil on Wednesday dropped $3.46 to finish below $125 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On July 11, the price was $147 a barrel. But without congressional approval, the ban remains in place.

McCain did not spend too much time taking jabs at Obama, who was in Israel on Wednesday meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. When he did, he didn't mince words.

On the war in Iraq, he said Obama was showing "a remarkable failure to understand the facts on the ground" by continuing to call for a troop withdrawal on a 16-month timetable. McCain said Obama's plan "could lead to a resurgence in our enemies, and we would have to come back." McCain said that under his presidency "we will never have to go back. We will have won this conflict."

Later he said: "I know how to win wars."

He said he took flak, even from his own party, and was labeled "disloyal," for criticizing the way the war was initially handled. He supported sending additional troops to Iraq, which was not a popular idea with many Americans. Rather than throwing in the towel and abiding by public opinion, he put his beliefs in his country and military leaders ahead of concerns for his campaign, he said.

"I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war," he said, later adding "Apparently Sen. Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a campaign. He still fails to acknowledge that we have succeeded."

On Obama's opposition to offshore drilling and nuclear power, McCain said that instead of Obama using the campaign slogan "Yes we can" he should change it to "No we won't."

After more than an hour of speaking and taking questions, McCain thanked those who braved the rainy weather to hear what he had to say and reminded them of the real reason he was in town.

"I do need your vote. I do need your active participation," he said to a standing ovation.

After McCain left the Kirby Center, his Straight Talk Express bus headed to the Westmoreland Club on South Franklin Street for an invitation-only, $250-a-plate fundraising lunch.

Then it was on to Kings Supermarket in Bethlehem Township. Today, McCain will host a fundraiser in Canton, Ohio, and participate in a town hall meeting in Columbus.

0 -- Times he mentioned the names of any local cities including Wilkes-Barre

4 -- Flags that were brought out on stage when colors were presented. They were the United States, Pennsylvania, POW/MIA and the Daddow-Isaacs American Legion Post 672 of Dallas flags.

9 -- Number of audience members he took questions from

19 -- Times he used the phrase "my friends"

45 -- Number of nuclear power plants McCain wants to build in the next 20 years.

50 -- Number of people on stage with McCain

71 -- His age

250 -- Number of dollars it cost to attend the fundraising lunch with McCain at the Westmoreland Club.

800 -- Number of people in attendance at the F.M. Kirby Center

1,800 -- Total seats in the Kirby.

To see additional photos and video, visit www.times


"I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Apparently Sen. Obama would rather lose a war.. "

U.S. Sen. John McCain

GOP presidential candidate


To see more of The Times Leader, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesleader.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.