McCain Touts Foreign Credentials; Obama On Break

With Barack Obama on vacation, John McCain has the campaign trail and the airwaves largely to himself. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been displaying his foreign policy credentials on the Georgia-Russia conflict.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Americans watching the Olympics last night saw an unusual commercial from Republican John McCain. The ad began with an implied attack on McCain's fellow Republican in the White House.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Washington's broken. John McCain knows it. We're worse off than we were four years ago.

INSKEEP: The ad takes a famous question from Ronald Reagan - are you better off than you were four years ago? - and turns it against President Bush. McCain is trying to show he is independent from an unpopular administration in the face of Democratic criticism that he's anything but.

That's just one way that McCain is reaching out to independent voters or even to Democrats, as we're going to hear in a moment. NPR's David Greene has been following the candidate through swing states.

DAVID GREENE: Reporters traveling with Senator McCain heard something last night they hadn't heard in quite a while.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): Thank you, Ed.

GREENE: It was McCain calling on reporters. The new McCain of recent weeks has been on message and not very accessible to the national press. But yesterday in Michigan he held a full-blown press conference. Some of the questions were about how the conflict between Russia and Georgia might play in the presidential campaign.

Sen. MCCAIN: First of all, this isn't a time for partisanship and sniping between campaigns.

GREENE: This has been a time for McCain to display his foreign policy credentials. Both he and Obama have delivered forceful warnings to Russia, though McCain's did come earlier. And while insisting this isn't about politics, McCain did say voters should at some point consider how he and Obama each addressed the crisis in Georgia.

Sen. MCCAIN: I think judgments will be made about how we handled this situation, how we approached the situation in Iraq.

GREENE: For the news conference, McCain brought along two of his allies in the Senate; independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. McCain was asked if Lieberman's a possible running mate.

Sen. MCCAIN: We're not discussing the process or individuals.

GREENE: As for his other friend...

Sen. MCCAIN: And the only reason why Senator Graham is with us is because he gets free meals from time to time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: McCain's events have seemed more stage managed and polished recently. In York, Pennsylvania Tuesday, McCain's Straight Talk Express bus drove into the expo hall with "Rocky" blaring.

(Soundbite of theme from "Rocky")

GREENE: The bus deposited the candidate to begin his town hall.

Sen. MCCAIN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. MCCAIN: Thank you all. Thank you.

GREENE: One audience member to stand up was 19-year-old Mark Solars.

Mr. MARK SOLARS (Audience Member): Before I came here I was a diehard Hillary Clinton fan. Okay. Thank you.

Sen. MCCAIN: Thank you.

Mr. SOLARS: And...

Sen. MCCAIN: Thank you for coming here. Thank you for coming here today.

Mr. SOLARS: Well, I came to see the issues, you know.

Sen. MCCAIN: I'm sure.

Mr. SOLARS: Put the...

Sen. MCCAIN: Yes.

Mr. SOLARS: ...politics aside.

Sen. MCCAIN: Sure.

GREENE: Mark said he came because he hasn't decided between McCain and Obama. He asked McCain what he'd do to help young people afford college.

Sen. MCCAIN: If you will enter college and get into certain specialties - engineering, math, science, etc. - then we will find ways to help keep you in school.

GREENE: McCain offered Mark a few other ideas, then finally told him this...

Sen. MCCAIN: I need to do a better job - I'll give you straight talk - I need to do a better job with young voters in America, and I want to reach out to them.

GREENE: We wanted to know if McCain had succeeded with Mark, so we called him up on the phone yesterday and asked the young man if he's made up his mind.

Mr. SOLARS: Oh, man, that's a hard question. Well, not knowing everything that Senator Obama stands on and, you know, knowing more about Senator McCain, I would probably say Senator McCain, but the election isn't tomorrow and I have a lot more time to do some decision making.

GREENE: Mark has 82 more days, to be precise.

David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the McCain campaign.

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