Tough Week For McCain Campaign

John McCain has adopted a more conciliatory attitude toward his rival Barack Obama after another week of falling poll numbers. The ruling this week by an Alaska panel that McCain's running mate Sarah Palin abused her authority as governor by trying to get her brother in law fired can't have helped.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, back to this country and the campaign trail, a trail that's been pretty rough lately for John McCain. Polls show him slipping further behind Barack Obama, especially in critical swing states. Then came yesterday. The Troopergate report came in. An Alaska panel ruled that his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, abused her power in trying to get her brother-in-law fired as a state trooper. Then, during a campaign town hall event last night, Senator McCain had to admonish a few of his angriest supporters. He defended Senator Obama as a decent family man. ..TEXT: To find out how this is playing today, we'll turn to NPR's trail runners, Scott Horsley with John McCain in eastern Iowa and David Greene with Barack Obama in Philadelphia. Let's start with you, Scott. What are you seeing today?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, Senator McCain has just wrapped up a rally in Davenport, Iowa, and he pretty much stuck to the issues, as he does during these rallies. He criticized Senator Obama's healthcare plan and suggested he'd raise taxes on small businesses.

Some of the harshest criticism we've heard from Senator McCain has come not at rallies, but in town hall meetings, where he's interacting with supporters. There was a moment today when he interacted with some of Senator Obama's supporters who tried to interrupt the rally, and McCain had a chance to play diplomat.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): As people are trying to stay in their homes, keep their jobs, and afford healthcare, is what they want for us to yell at each other? No. They want us to sit down together, Republican and Democrat, and work together.

SEABROOK: Scott, that sounds pretty different from the scuffles at McCain's town halls yesterday.

HORSLEY: Yesterday, we really saw two sides of John McCain all within about 15 minutes of each other. On the one hand, he was, as you say, defending Senator Obama as a decent family man. On the other hand, he was being pretty tough and questioning Senator Obama's truthfulness, especially when it comes to dealing with his loose association with a Chicago education professor who was once a member of a Vietnam era radical group.

SEABROOK: David, let's turn to you. What's Senator Obama saying about all this?

DAVID GREENE: Well, Senator Obama is spending today, Andrea, darting around Philadelphia to four different rallies. It's been an adventure in motorcade riding. But there were sort of two sides to Senator Obama at some moments today because he attacked Senator McCain and said that the Republican nominee just doesn't get it when it comes to responding to this financial crisis, but then he said that he wanted to take a moment to say thank you to Senator McCain for calling him a decent person, as we talked about earlier. This is a little of what Obama had to say today.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee): I want to acknowledge that Senator McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric in his town hall meeting yesterday.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator OBAMA: I appreciate it, his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other.

SEABROOK: Respectful of each other. Scott, early in the week, a few folks in the crowds at Palin and McCain rallies seemed to really be getting out of hand about Obama, reportedly yelling, kill him and off with his head. And then, last night, when McCain tried to tone things down, there was even some booing from his supporters. What went on there?

HORSLEY: Andrea, I should say that the really hostile things that have been said about Senator Obama at McCain rallies, it comes from a very small minority of McCain backers. There is, however, a sense among a lot of McCain supporters that he himself needs to get more aggressive against Obama in order to turn around these poll numbers. There was some booing from the crowd when Senator McCain came to Obama's defense yesterday, but there was also cheering for McCain when he called for a respectful campaign.

SEABROOK: And quickly, how is the McCain campaign responding to the Troopergate report on Governor Sarah Palin?

HORSLEY: First of all, they're grateful that it came out late on a Friday night. Secondly, they're congratulating the legislative investigation for clearing Governor Palin over the firing of her public safety chief. As for the other finding that she violated ethics rules by trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired, they're dismissing that as without basis and calling the investigation politically motivated.

SEABROOK: And the campaign's marched on along with NPR's David Greene and Scott Horsley, thanks guys.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Andrea.

GREENE: Thanks, Andrea.

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