McCain Talks Iraq, Energy Costs In New Hampshire

As Barack Obama makes headlines overseas, his presidential rival, John McCain, returned to New Hampshire on Tuesday. It's the site of his primary victory, and he used the visit to criticize the Illinois senator on foreign policy.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And Obama's Republican rival may think the press is getting just a little too excited about Obama's overseas travels. Last night, John McCain's campaign passed out laminated press cards to reporters who travel with him. They read: McCain Press Corps, JV Squad, Left Behind to Report in America.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The so-called junior varsity reporters include NPR's Scott Horsley, who listened as McCain challenged his rival on Iraq.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain says Barack Obama was wrong about Iraq a year ago, and he's still wrong today. McCain complains that Obama has not acknowledged the progress that's been made in Iraq - progress McCain says is a result of the troop surge he supported.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Senator Obama, my opponent, said the surge would not succeed, that he wanted us out. If he had had his way, we would've been out last March. We would have never done the surge. We would never have succeeded, and we would have had defeat.

HORSLEY: That view is shared by many of the people who came to hear McCain yesterday at the Old Opera House in Rochester, New Hampshire. But not Barbara Hilton, an anti-war activist from neighboring Portsmouth.

Ms. BARBARA HILTON (Anti-War Activist): Our presence there is, in fact, inflaming the Muslim world and creating more terrorists. Our tax dollars…

(Soundbite of booing)

Sen. McCAIN: Now, now, now, now, one - wait, wait, please. One of the fundamental - please, please, sir. One of…

Ms. HILTON: Don't I have a right to speak?

Sen. McCAIN: Yes, ma'am. That's what I'm trying to ensure right now.

Ms. HILTON: Thank you, thank you. I'm…

SCOTT HORSLEY: McCain engaged in a lengthy back and forth with Hilton. He acknowledged that the war was mismanaged for years, but he also argued the strategy now in place is working and said it would eventually benefit the whole region.

Sen. McCAIN: We're going to withdraw. We will withdraw. The fact is whether we withdraw in victory or whether we withdraw in defeat.

HORSLEY: McCain enjoys the give and take of these town hall meetings, and he held more than 100 of them while campaigning during the New Hampshire primary. His victory in that contest helped revitalize his campaign and put him on a path towards the nomination. But McCain will have his hands full with Granite State voters in November. Peter Spaulding chairs his New Hampshire campaign.

Mr. PETER SPAULDING (Chairman, McCain Campaign, New Hampshire): It's going to be a battleground state, and there was a poll done, you know, it shows us Obama or McCain within two points here in New Hampshire, and we're very pleased with that.

HORSLEY: The University of New Hampshire poll actually shows Obama with a three-point lead. That's essentially a tie. But two months ago, McCain had a six-point lead in New Hampshire. After yesterday's town hall meeting, McCain dropped by the Buxton Heating Oil Company, where he watched a delivery company get loaded with 2,800 gallons of the precious fuel. Although it's the middle of summer, every one of those gallons cost $4.59. Heating bills this winter could be twice as high as last year's.

Sen. McCAIN: Buxton's are at the end of the chain. We've got to address the beginning of it, including offshore oil exploration, including nuclear power, including alternate forms of energy. There's nobody who's a greater supporter of alternate energy than the Buxtons because they know that many of their customers are in such difficulties financially when they see the price of oil doubling.

HORSLEY: Democrats note that two years ago, McCain voted against a bill that would've provided poor families with more federal help in paying their heating bills. McCain said he would back a new aid proposal from Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, but only because it would be paid for with a new tax on oil companies.

Sen. McCAIN: The problem is that keep on spending, and we don't have ways of paying for it, and we lay on future generations of Americans this incredible debt.

HORSLEY: That answer sounds tailor-made for the famously frugal voters of New Hampshire. Later this week, McCain campaigns in Louisiana, where Governor Bobby Jindal has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate. The senator was non-committal about any upcoming announcement.

Sen. McCAIN: We have the answer as we always had. We'll - when we announce -when we're ready to announce, we'll announce.

HORSLEY: Still, running-mate rumors fueled by columnist Robert Novak have helped to hold reporters' interest in McCain's campaign at a time when it might otherwise be overshadowed by Obama's foreign travels. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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