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Today, Senator John McCain continued his efforts to give his presidential campaign a green tent. He visited an environmental education center outside Seattle and stressed his commitment to environmental protection. That was just one of several events this week, calculated to win over independent voters. McCain even planned a nature walk around a reservoir with reporters and photographers in tow, including NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Just a week ago, John McCain was courting the Republican Party faithful with a speech in North Carolina, promising to follow President Bush in appointing conservative judges to the federal bench. He'll be courting the right again later this week when he speaks to the National Rifle Association in Kentucky.
But for the moment, McCain's tone is very different as he campaigns in the Pacific Northwest. He held a roundtable discussion today with a group of Washington State Conservation Advocates. Sally Jewell heads the Seattle-based outdoor gear company REI, a cooperative with 3.5 million active members.
SALLY JEWELL: We have members that span from the far right to the far left political spectrum. But the one thing that I think they all appreciate is a healthy environment.
HORSLEY: By wrapping himself in the fleece vest of environmentalism, McCain hopes to reach out to that constituency. Today, he repeated his pledge to combat greenhouse gases with a cap-and-trade system. His plan is similar to those proposed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, albeit with less stringent limits on carbon pollution.
McCain's green campaign this week is aimed squarely at the moderate voters that University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says he needs.
LARRY SABATO: McCain simply cannot win in November if he can't consolidate the center and win the swing independents who determine every presidential election. His task is tough enough because of President Bush's unpopularity, the unpopularity of the Iraq war, and the tanking of the economy. If he gets too identified with the right wing of his own party, then he's going to alienate those swing independents and he'll lose the election.
HORSLEY: McCain is closely identified with President Bush, in his support for the Iraq war and an economic policy built on tax cuts. But Sabato says so far that hasn't been the drag on his campaign that it might be.
SABATO: Right now he has that maverick image and he's running about 20 to 25 points better than the Republican brand. He's also running 20 to 25 points better than George W. Bush. The Democrats job is to make sure that doesn't continue. McCain's job is to make sure that it does.
HORSLEY: The environment is one area where McCain can put some daylight between his views and President Bush's. Speaking in Portland, Oregon yesterday, McCain subtly criticized the president for not doing more to combat global warming.
JOHN MCCAIN: I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges.
HORSLEY: McCain also went out of his way this week to praise Oregon's Democratic governor and to promise more bipartisan cooperation if he's elected president.
MCCAIN: We need to draw on the best ideas of both parties and on all the resources that a free market can provide.
HORSLEY: Democratic presidential candidates and their allies here in Washington hope to pour some cold Seattle rain on McCain's effort to portray himself as a different kind of Republican. Members of the Washington State Labor Council plan to picket a McCain fundraiser today. And council president Rick Bender says his members will be campaigning door to door this weekend, trying to build a link in voters' minds between McCain and President Bush.
RICK BENDER: Bush is extremely unpopular here in Washington State. And as you well know, Washington State has been a blue state for some time, and so, yeah, he will be probably trying to do everything he can to make sure that he's not tied to Bush. But we'll help him there, because his voting record is pretty much in line with the president about 89 percent of the time. So that be hard for us to detail.
HORSLEY: Even as McCain tries to distance himself from the president, he can't go too far without risk of losing core Republican votes.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, North Bend, Washington.
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