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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We're leaving the Democrats now to John McCain. He visited friendly territory today. He spoke to the national Convention of the American Legion - a military veterans organization, he's a member.

NPR's Ted Robbins has the story from Phoenix.

TED ROBBINS: This is John McCain's base - veterans of the armed services. They know well that he is one of them. Still, he reminded them of his years as a POW in Vietnam as he praised their own service.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): All of us return from war with a few experiences we'd gladly forget. But the friendship and - camaraderie we brought home are forever.

ROBBINS: John McCain supported the latest U.S. war, the invasion of Iraq, and he made no apologies for that support here. In fact, he promised if he is elected that he would not shy away from exercising U.S. power in the future.

Sen. McCAIN: The next president of the United States must bring to office a clear-eyed view of our nation's role in the world as a defender of the oppressed and a force for peace.

ROBBINS: But the main message McCain delivered was his support for veterans. He vowed to reform the VA health care system and renewed his pledge to provide war veterans and low-income vets with a government card they could use at health care facilities outside the VA system.

He insisted that did not mean he wants to cut VA services. McCain said any additional cost would be offset by more accountability in the system.

Sen. McCAIN: My reforms would not force anyone to a non-VA facility and do not signal any privatization of the VA.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. McCAIN: Use of the card would be optional. Only high-quality health care providers would be used. Participating veterans would incur no additional charges.

ROBBINS: McCain left to a standing ovation. His message resonated with veteran Mike Ash(ph) of Minnesota.

Mr. MIKE ASH: Definitely. He's been there. He's a veteran himself. He witnessed the abuse of veterans. He witnessed war.

ROBBINS: Tim Collmer of New York was less enthusiastic. He said he will vote for McCain but he also wishes McCain had gone further today in supporting veterans. Collmer said McCain was delivering the message the audience wanted to hear. He wanted McCain to propose mandatory VA funding levels.

Mr. TIM COLLMER: Like most politicians, he talked to the group that he was - he was talking to the group that he was supposed to be. But I think that the VA reforms are the biggest thing, and I'm glad to see that he's doing that.

ROBBINS: Tomorrow, the American Legion convention will hear from Republican Vice President Dick Cheney as well as several Democrats including Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama via videotape.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Phoenix.

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