While much of the nation has been riveted to the bruising battle for Pennsylvania's primary and the race for the Democratic presidential nod, presumptive GOP nominee John McCain has been out campaigning in blighted areas in what his campaign calls the "It's Time for Action Tour."
This week, he has stumped and tried to raise money at town hall-style events and speeches in such places as Selma, Ala.; the steel town of Youngstown, Ohio; and New Orleans' hurricane-devastated Ninth Ward.
The Arizona senator is attempting to win over low-income voters and divert blunt criticism from his Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have said that electing McCain would be the policy equivalent of a third term for President Bush.
In a conversation with Robert Siegel, McCain says his record shows that he disagrees with Bush's handling of the Iraq war, on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and — most adamantly — on the issue of government spending.
"My record is very clear," McCain says. "I've had agreement with the president on some issues, and we've had specific disagreements on other issues. For example: spending. I opposed the spending with everything in me and fought against wasteful earmark and pork barrel spending."
He pointed specifically to projects in Alabama that have received federal monies: a ferry in Gee's Bend that restarted service in 2006, and a 56-foot-tall cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the fire and forge, in Birmingham.
"The people who have been shortchanged because of this pork-barreling earmark project are the people who are least and last represented in Washington, which is our lowest income Americans," McCain says. "And I can prove that."
If elected president in November, McCain says, he'll approve an additional $300 billion in tax cuts over 10 years. He also vows to immediately slash $100 billion in "wasteful" government spending — $65 billion from the federal budget baseline and $35 billion that was approved in spending bills over the past two years.
"The problem is that we've presided over a 40 percent increase in the budget over the last eight years," McCain says, "and that's got to be brought under control."