MELISSA BLOCK, host:
John McCain is feeling a bit neglected this week by the news media. The Republican presidential candidate enjoys a good relationship with the press, but Barack Obama's trip to the Middle East has upstaged McCain's travels to such places as Rochester, New Hampshire, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, McCain's campaign is fighting back with humor.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain looked out at a less-than-full auditorium in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, this morning and thanked the crowd for showing up at something as mundane as a town hall meeting.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Thank you for being here this morning, and I appreciate the fact that you would come out. I know that everybody has something else to do today.
HORSLEY: For a lot of news outlets, that something else is Barack Obama's overseas trip, which has dominated political coverage in recent days. Pennsylvania student Katie Klein, who found time to attend McCain's event, thinks that's typical of a left-leaning media bias.
Ms. KATIE KLEIN (Student): I mean, obviously this week, with Barack being overseas, he's going to get more attention. But I think generally, he's going to get more attention anyway.
HORSLEY: The McCain campaign poked fun at the news media and its own second billing this week, handing out press credentials to reporters that said: JV Squad — Left Behind to Report in America. McCain's team also produced a Web video about the media's perceived fixation on their Democratic rival.
(Soundbite of Web video)
Mr. JOE SCARBOROUGH (MSNBC Host): The media's love affair with Barack Obama is all-consuming.
Mr. CHRIS MATTHEWS (MSNBC Host): I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often.
HORSLEY: Well, there's not exactly a news blackout on McCain, who recorded interviews today with ABC, Fox News and several local TV stations. But highlighting the Obama coverage allows McCain to cast himself in his preferred role as an underdog, while at the same time shaming the media into self-conscious balancing act stories like this one.
Several people at today's town hall meeting thanked McCain for taking time to visit this blue-collar corner of Pennsylvania. Steelworker Chuck Partington says it's an area that doesn't get a lot of attention.
Mr. CHUCK PARTINGTON (Steelworker): He's doing the right thing coming to Pennsylvania. He's just got to make sure that he answers the questions that people have here. And it's tough. It's hard living here.
HORSLEY: McCain stood in front of a banner that read Energy Solutions and talked up his plans for offshore oil drilling and cleaner-burning coal.
Sen. McCAIN: I'm willing to spend $2 billion a year for research and development for clean coal technology. And by the way, think of how many jobs that would create in the state of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other parts of the country where we have these vast coal reserves.
(Soundbite of applause)
HORSLEY: McCain claimed that President Bush's support for offshore oil drilling contributed to a sharp drop in oil prices. Other observers say it was the economic slowdown that led to the price drop, along with stepped-up diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran.
Although this week the political spotlight may be trained on the Middle East rather than the battlegrounds here at home, McCain predicted a very different focus come November 4th.
Sen. McCAIN: I predict to you that you will see commentators on television saying, well, we're waiting to see what happens when Pennsylvania comes in. That's - you've seen that movie before.
HORSLEY: By that measure, McCain's crowd today in Wilkes-Barre may carry more weight than those now cheering Obama on his overseas tour.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
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