McCain Visits Three Key States in One Day

While a lot of attention is on the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has been busy campaigning for the November election. On Wednesday, he visited three battleground states in a single day, focusing on spreading his economic message to the blue-collar voter.

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It may only be May 1st, but it's never too early to look at the electoral map. If John McCain can win the three states that he visited yesterday, he's a long way toward the White House. The Republican presidential candidate managed to have breakfast in Florida, lunch in Pennsylvania and dinner in Ohio. You can expect him to return for many more meals before voting in November.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain bounced through Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley yesterday in his signature Straight Talk Express bus. The mostly white working-class voters in this part of eastern Pennsylvania sided with John Kerry in the presidential race four years ago, but the margin was slight. And part of McCain's mission here is reaching out to one-time Reagan Democrats.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): I want to compete for the vote of every American. And I know I'm not going to get the vote of every American. But right now, their trust and confidence in their government is at a very low point. And 80 percent of the American people think the country's on the wrong track.

So I want to assure them that whether they vote for me or not, that they can depend on me to try to represent all Americans.

HORSLEY: McCain's destination on this trip was Allentown, the former industrial powerhouse now dominated by the service sector. The Lehigh Valley Hospital is the area's biggest employer. McCain held a town hall meeting at the hospital to showcase how computerized recordkeeping and remote control medicine can improve care, reduce mistakes and possibly cut costs.

When a young man in the audience asked how he plans to address drug and alcohol-related ailments, McCain took the opportunity to talk about the sagging economy.

Sen. McCAIN: Right now, Americans are hurting in Pennsylvania and across this country. Tonight, a family will be sitting around the kitchen table figuring out how they can make their new increased mortgage payments. Two hundred and fifty-something thousand will be sitting around the kitchen table and figuring out what they're going to do because they suddenly and recently lost a job.

HORSLEY: McCain has proposed a series of tax cuts in hopes of boosting economic growth. He also says the U.S. needs to provide more education and job training.

When the Q&A session was over and McCain was shaking hands, hospital maintenance worker Mike Jolliet(ph) said he like what he heard.

Mr. MIKE JOLLIET (Hospital Maintenance Worker): The thing I love about John is that he's a real guy. He really does care about us, or he wouldn't be here. I'm excited. I feel good.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOLLIET: Must be the music.

HORSLEY: Not everyone was so impressed. A handful of union members protested outside the hospital. One woman held a sign saying McCain's healthcare plan doesn't cover me. That plan uses tax credits to encourage people to buy their own health insurance, rather than getting it through an employer. McCain admits that could pose challenges for older, sicker people.

McCain also wants to suspend the federal gasoline tax this summer. While some economists say that would just encourage people to drive more, Lehigh Valley resident Liz Carvalla(ph) welcomes the idea.

Mr. LIZ CARVALLA: Oh, that would be great. That would just help us out. I'm a working single parent, and I live check-to-check, unfortunately. And with the gas prices, my check, I have to do half with the gas, so it's harder to live.

HORSLEY: On his way to the hospital yesterday, McCain stopped off for a fundraiser with supporters who aren't living paycheck-to-paycheck. McCain spends part of nearly every day at a fundraising event, where the price of admission is typically $1,000 or more. But using the Internet, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been able to raise two or three times as much money as McCain, while spending much less of their time schmoozing donors.

Still, McCain senior adviser, Charlie Black, said the money race is going okay.

Mr. CHARLIE BLACK (McCain Senior Adviser): It's just part of running for president. You're going to be doing fundraisers just about every day, and so far so good.

HORSLEY: McCain is essentially tied with both Democrats in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, even though the poll shows Republicans generally are not viewed favorably. Still, the ever-cautious McCain notes there are a lot of miles to cover between now and Election Day.

Sen. McCAIN: A lot of voters, unlike us political junkies on the back of the bus here, sort of make up their minds after the conventions are over. So it's going to be a long campaign ahead of us. I'm optimistic about this state, but I know I've got a lot of work to do.

HORSLEY: Senior adviser Black says the fun starts once McCain knows which of the two Democrats he'll be facing in November.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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