McCain Focuses On Issues At Home

Sen. John McCain has campaigned across the U.S. this week, stressing economic concerns and other domestic topics. As Sen. Barack Obama traveled abroad, McCain sought to empathize with American voters who are hurting.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, is improving his standing in several key states. A survey shows him closer to Obama in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. McCain is now leading in Colorado, where he's visiting today. That state is expected to be a battleground, as is Ohio, the state he visited yesterday.

Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: There were plenty of yellow jerseys in Columbus, Ohio last night when John McCain spoke at a cancer forum sponsored by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. McCain himself wore a yellow tie, and he joked about the Tour de France his opponent is now enjoying.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Nominee): In a scene that Lance would recognize, a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris - and that's just the American press.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: McCain and his staff have grumbled all week about the media glow surrounding Obama's foreign trip while their own campaign has seemed temporarily snake-bitten. A high-profile visit to New Orleans had to be scrubbed at the last minute. Instead, the campaign wound up sharing a hotel in Ohio with a gathering of alumni from a historically black college, where some of the alums were wearing Obama T-shirts. Even the sound system at last night's forum was acting up.

Sen. McCAIN: (Unintelligible). This microphone was brought to you by the Democratic National Committee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Still, at a press conference afterwards, McCain said he's satisfied with the progress of his campaign.

Sen. McCAIN: I feel fine. I think we've had a great week, and we'll be continuing on tomorrow, and I'm sorry that the weather prevented us from going out to an offshore oil rig. We'll still do that because we need to drill offshore.

HORSLEY: It may be just as well McCain didn't visit a Louisiana drilling rig, during a week when a barge collision there dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Mississippi River. That's not the kind of visual image the McCain campaign is looking for, even if the spilled oil didn't come from an offshore rig, as McCain pointed out.

Sen. McCAIN: That doesn't change the fact that we have to continue our exploration offshore of oil reserves, and we can make it safer.

HORSLEY: At last night's cancer forum, McCain called for an aggressive campaign against cigarette smoking, and he plans to increase funding for the National Cancer Institutes, although he wouldn't be pinned down by moderator Paula Zahn.

Ms. PAULA ZAHN (Television Moderator): Can you tell us by how much, though? Your Democratic candidates, at your forum in the fall, were saying they'd double and they would triple the NCINIH budget.

Sen. McCAIN: It's easy, particularly in all candor, for liberals to go out and say I'll give you all this. You know, though, that the debt we laid on you, future generations of Americans.

HORSLEY: McCain's resistance to many forms of government spending make it hard for him to propose federal relief at a time when many people are feeling an economic pinch. He showed his empathetic side this week when he accompanied a Pennsylvania mother of two doing her grocery shopping.

(Soundbite of grocery checkout)

HORSLEY: McCain registered no surprise at the price scanner that famously impressed the first President Bush back in the 1992 campaign, but he sounded alarmed at the rising prices he discovered in the produce section and the dairy case.

Sen. McCAIN: The price of a gallon of milk just went over $4 a gallon. Renee(ph) said that that was the highest that she had ever seen it. And obviously it's impacting Americans' pocketbook. And part of it is, obviously, the increased cost of energy.

HORSLEY: A new Quinnipiac University poll here in Colorado shows strong support for offshore oil drilling, which could be one reason McCain is picking up votes in the land-locked state. He'll gain more altitude this afternoon, when he travels to Aspen for a meeting with the Dalai Lama. After that, it's home to Arizona for the weekend. McCain told Lance Armstrong last night hiking in the desert is his favorite form of exercise, although he allowed that running for president is a pretty good workout, too.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Denver.

(Soundbite of music)

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

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