Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail

McCain Courts Independent Voters

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Sen. John McCain has been hard at work to unite the GOP and a new Washington Post-ABC poll shows nine out of ten Republicans back his run for the White House. Now he's putting a bigger focus on independent voters.


Okay. So, we just heard Obama's effort to unite the Democrats. John McCain has had months to unite Republicans, and by one measure he's doing fine. Nine out of ten Republicans say they favor McCain, that's according to a survey by the Washington Post and ABC News. So, as we've heard in previous days, conservative activists may doubt McCain but Republican voters, at least, say they'll cast ballots for him.

The challenge for McCain is that Republicans alone may not have enough votes to carry him to victory. He needs the support of independent voters. NPR's Scott Horsley reports on McCain's effort to court them.

SCOTT HORSLEY: You could call it a week of extremes for John McCain. One day he's dining at the home of a Houston billionaire with donors who have each given tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican cause. Two days later, he's in Columbus Junction, Iowa, commiserating with residents whose downtown was washed out by a runaway Iowa river. The visit to the flood zone was a hasty addition to McCain's campaign schedule, five days after Barack Obama helped fill sandbags along the Mississippi River. McCain ran in the Iowa primary back in January and finished fourth. He wants to do better in the toss up state come November. The same goes for next door Missouri where McCain held a town hall meeting on Wednesday. In Springfield, he heard from anxious middle-class residents like Sarah Craig.

Ms. SARAH CRAIG (Missouri Resident): Energy is a major thing right now. Fuel, gas prices for our family are causing major financial crunches in the pocketbook. And it's not just us, it's everybody.

HORSLEY: This week, McCain unveiled an energy plan that includes more offshore oil drilling, twice as many nuclear plants, and a two billion dollar a year investment in cleaner burning coal. None of those would bring gas prices down tomorrow, but McCain says over time, they would reduce the nation's dependence on costly imported oil.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): We have been through challenges before. I have no doubt we can meet them, but America has to understand the challenge better and understand what we have to do to fix them. And that's one of the major jobs of the President of the United States.

HORSLEY: Although energy was McCain's primary topic this week, his allies also held daily conference calls to criticize Obama for supporting last week's Supreme Court ruling that said foreign terror suspects held at Guantanamo are entitled to a hearing in civilian court. Using a line right out of the Republican's 2004 playbook, Rudy Giuliani said Obama showed a September 10th mindset. McCain himself opposes the high court's decision.

Senator McCAIN: So we have a fundamental disagreement about it. And I think Mayor Giuliani, who's very well qualified on this issue, having been mayor of New York City at a credible time in American history, has put it very well. He doesn't have an understanding of the nature of the threat.

HORSLEY: Obama quickly responded saying he wouldn't be lectured on national security, not when what he called the Bush-McCain approach had failed to capture Osama bin Laden and become bogged down in a war in Iraq. According to this week's Washington Post-ABC Poll, more voters trust McCain to deal with terrorism, but Obama is stronger on the economy, healthcare, and high gas prices. By stressing terrorism, even at the expense of his own energy message, McCain seemed to be making that issue more important to voters and it's working with some, like John Patrolnus(ph).

Mr. JOHN PATROLNUS (Undecided voter): The economics are important, but our safety is most important.

HORSLEY: Patrolnus attended a reception for McCain's Hispanic supporters in a Chicago hotel Wednesday. Meanwhile, outside the hotel, Hispanic union members were protesting the Senator's visit.

(Soundbite of protestors)

Protestors: He says war, we say no. John McCain has got to go.

HORSLEY: Both McCain and Obama are courting Latino voters whose support could be decisive in a number of states. The Iowa town that McCain visited yesterday is about 40 percent Latino thanks to a Tyson meat packing plant. But most of those who turned out to meet the candidate were Anglo. McCain's campaign has charted a generally northern course this week, from Texas to Minnesota, mixing public campaign events with daily private fund raisers along the way. Today, McCain heads even farther north. He'll deliver a pro-trade speech in Ottawa, Canada.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Minneapolis.

(Soundbite of music)

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