In Florida, McCain Focuses On Security, Economy

To win next Tuesday, Republican John McCain likely has to hold on to most, if not all, the states President Bush carried in the last two elections. And one of the big ones is Florida, where McCain spent all day Wednesday. In addition to the economy, he focused on his own political strength — national security.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Some states that Republicans carried in the last election appear to be slipping away from John McCain. To win, McCain has to keep nearly all of them, especially the biggest. And that includes the state where we go next.

MONTAGNE: Florida decided the 2000 election. President Bush's win there in 2004 was essential to his re-election. In 2008, the state is considered a tossup. And yesterday in Florida, McCain focused on both the economy and national security. NPR's David Greene is following the McCain campaign.

DAVID GREENE: Senator McCain's day began with a round of interviews on some of Miami's popular Spanish-language radio stations. One of the hosts, Enrique Santos, told McCain he was planning to cast his ballot the next day and remained undecided.

(Soundbite or radio interview)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): We have surveillance cameras, and we'll know how you voted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ENRIQUE SANTOS (Radio Show Host): All right.

Senator MCCAIN: So you - I would suggest if you do vote the wrong way, you hire someone to start your car tomorrow morning.

Mr. SANTOS: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: That was a joke. At the same time, McCain does need every vote he can get in states like this. From Florida to other red states like Ohio and Virginia, McCain is on his heels. And what's becoming clear is how he plans to deal with that, by going after his opponent. This is a sampling of the TV ads released by the McCain campaign and the Republican Party in recent days.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign ad)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Obama, dangerously unprepared to be president.

(Soundbite of Democratic campaign ad)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Listen to Joe Biden talking about what electing Barack Obama will mean.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate: Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama.

Unidentified Announcer #2: But what if the storm does get worse with someone who's untested at the helm?

GREENE: It's an ominous tone that McCain struck himself yesterday in Tampa where he held a roundtable on national security. He used the gathering as a backdrop for new attacks on Obama.

(Soundbite of Republican roundtable, Florida)

Senator MCCAIN: In his four years in the Senate, two of them spent running for president, Barack Obama has displayed some impressive qualities. But the question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and other grave threats in the world. And he is giving you no reason to answer in the affirmative.

GREENE: McCain said he knows the country has recently focused less on terrorism and more on confronting a struggling economy.

Senator MCCAIN: But these dangers have not gone away while we turned our attention elsewhere.

GREENE: McCain's attention was focused on the economy at the only large campaign rally he held yesterday at a business in Miami.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally, Miami)

Senator MCCAIN: Thank you for being here today at Everglades Lumber, a symbol of small business, a symbol of success, and the symbol of the challenges that we face today in America.

GREENE: One challenge for small businesses, he said, would be Barack Obama's policies.

Senator MCCAIN: When Senator Obama revealed that he wants to, quote, "spread the wealth around," he's talking about you. He's talking about your wealth.

GREENE: McCain then said that he didn't want his supporters fretting over the polls.

Senator MCCAIN: There's less than a week to go. We're a few points down. The pundits have written us off, OK, just like they've done several times before. They were wrong before, and they're wrong now.

GREENE: The crowd was full of people doing their own punditry. Don Gonzales(ph) and Beth Muzinski(ph) wanted to chat about the 1980 election when President Jimmy Carter appeared to have a slim lead over Ronald Reagan heading into the final days.

Mr. DON GONZALES: How many of these states did Jimmy Carter get?

Ms. BETH MUZINSKI: Well, I mean, it was a close election. But other than that, I mean, polls are polls. You're interviewing a thousand people. I can change my mind. I can say I'm pro-McCain, I can say I'm pro-Obama. I can say I'm an independent. So polls are just what they are. They're polls.

GREENE: In that 1980 election, Reagan overtook Carter and won big. But that was after a debate that took place just days before voters went to the polls. With no more debates, McCain is looking for some way to change the dynamic of this race. David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the McCain campaign.

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