McCain Courts Michigan's Working Class Vote

As Wall Street continued to be rocked by turmoil, the presidential candidates touted economic reforms to voters. Republican John McCain, campaigning in the battleground state of Michigan, told a crowd there he would fight for working people.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

We go now to the presidential campaign, to where the nation's faltering economy was inevitably the main topic of the day. Both Barack Obama and John McCain styled themselves as champions of the worker yesterday, and distanced themselves from policies that may have brought on the current crisis. We have two reports form the campaign trail, first NPR's David Greene traveling with the McCain campaign in the hotly contested state of Michigan.

DAVID GREENE: As soon as John McCain landed in Michigan yesterday, he headed for a GM plant outside Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN MCCAIN SPEAKING BEFORE GM WORKERS IN DETROIT)

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm here to send a message to Washington and to Wall Street. We're not going to leave the workers here in Michigan hung out to dry while we give billions in taxpayers' dollars to Wall Street. We're going to take care of the workers. The workers, they are the ones that deserve our help.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GREENE: As the focus of the campaign has turned to the economy, McCain's been sounding like a populist who knows how to connect with people and fight for them. McCain appeared alone at the GM plant, but by the time he arrived last night in Grand Rapids, he'd brought in some backup.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN TOWN HALL MEETING IN GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN)

MCCAIN: ...the next vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD OVATION)

SARAH PALIN: Thank you. Michigan, thank you so much.

GREENE: The two candidates were holding a town hall meeting together, and once again, Palin took center stage as she told the audience about her time as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN TOWN HALL MEETING IN GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN)

PALIN: What I focused on, first on a local level, was getting into a community that I had grown up in, a small town - and there's nothing wrong with small towns...

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD OVATION)

GREENE: For one thing, Palin said, her small town taught her the importance of cutting taxes to attract investment.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN TOWN HALL MEETING IN GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN)

PALIN: Those things that I could do to invite business in and hang that shingle on the wall, if you will, that said "We are open for business." And I'm ready to take that experience, that example, on to, now, a national level.

GREENE: The evening marked a first for Palin since joining the ticket. She'd never publicly fielded questions from voters. One question at last night's town hall came from Kimberly King(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN TOWN HALL MEETING IN GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN)

KIMBERLY KING: Governor Palin, there has been quite a bit of discussion about your perceived lack of foreign policy experience. And I want to give you your chance. If you could please respond to that criticism and give us specific skills that you think you have to bring to the White House to rebut that or mitigate that concern.

PALIN: Well, I think because I'm a Washington outsider that opponents are going to be looking for a whole lot of things that they can criticize and they can kind of try to beat the candidate here who chose me as his partner to kind of tear down the ticket. But as for foreign policy, you know, I think that I am prepared. And I know that on January 20, if we are so blessed as to be sworn into office as your president and vice president, certainly we'll be ready. I'll be ready. I have that confidence. I have that readiness. And if you want specifics with specific policy or countries, go ahead and you can ask me, you can even play stump the candidate if you want to. But we are ready to serve.

GREENE: I caught up with Kimberly King after the event. She said she wanted to give Palin a chance to blunt some of the criticisms swirling around her. Kimberly said she wasn't playing a game of foreign policy gotcha.

KING: I think that she knows and the campaign knows that she is lacking in that area. And you know what? So be it. But let's be upfront about it.

GREENE: Kimberly calls herself an independent voter, and says she hasn't made up her mind for this fall. Since Palin joined the ticket, Kimberly said she has sensed an effort by team McCain to cast Obama as elitist.

KING: I don't know that I think that's a fair assessment of him, but I do think that they are trying to build a case that he's even less connecting with the people, and hence, we're your guy.

GREENE: Or gal, as it were. I asked Kimberly if McCain had found a good messenger in Palin.

KING: The definition of genuine is to be who you are no matter what circle you're in, and I do think that she is that person.

GREENE: I'm David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the McCain campaign.

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Adviser: McCain Wants Reform On Wall Street

A day after heavy losses on Wall Street, John McCain's chief economic adviser says the Republican candidate wants to reform the regulatory system.

"We've got a patchwork of regulators right now — an alphabet soup, so to speak — and there are transactions that get treated differently," Douglas Holtz-Eakin tells host Steve Inskeep.

McCain, who has previously characterized himself as a "deregulator," would seek to have the same regulation for the same types of economic transactions. This is not an issue of more or less regulation, Holtz-Eakin says. "It's making sure the playing field is level and that everyone gets a fair chance."

He calls the economic crisis a complete failure on a bipartisan basis.

"Mass securitization and new exotic financial instruments really lead a lot of firms into bankruptcy, lead a lot of people into loans they couldn't handle," he says.

Holtz-Eakin says McCain challenged the Bush administration on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2005, arguing that they should be downsized and sold off, but it wasn't a priority for the administration.

"And now you see what we have," he says. "We have $5.6 trillion worth of debt, now explicitly backed by taxpayers ... and that's not acceptable. We can't do this, where private individuals, shareholders and management are making a pile of money at the taxpayers' expense."

Holtz-Eakin says McCain feels CEO salaries would be reined in quickly if they were put before shareholders for a vote. Shareholders might start thinking, "Gee, that could be my money or that could be money we plow into investment or research."

Income inequality is a big problem, Holtz-Eakin says, and the dividing line is education.

"Those with poor skills and low education do not succeed in this economy," he says. "[McCain] has proposed to reform dramatically our K-12 education system so that we stop failing so many young Americans."

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