John McCain visited Mike's America Lowcountry neighborhood today and had some straight talk for conservatives.
U.S. Presidential candidate Senator John McCain being introduced by hostess Paula Bethea on November 12, 2007. Senator McCain's mother Roberta is to the left. Photo by Mike's AmericaThis event was similar to the meeting with New York Governor Pataki last year as it was held at a fine private home with a small number of people. As Senator McCain began his remarks he quipped: "Hillary Clinton wants every American to have a home. I believe every American should have a home like this one."
Senator McCain then introduced his mother Roberta, who is 95 but had no trouble standing in for McCain's wife Cindy who injured her knee and will have surgery soon. Later during his remarks his cell phone rang. McCain quipped again as he pointed out that it's "not my wife Cindy;" a humorous contrast with Rudy Giuliani whose wife Judith has a habit of ringing him while he is giving a speech.
McCain Honors Veterans in Beaufort
Earlier in the day McCain led a wreathe laying ceremony (AP photo right) at the nearby Beaufort National Cemetery where American war dead are interred dating back to the Civil War and including those who sacrificed their lives for freedom in Iraq.
To the Hilton Head event he brought with him two friends, Capt. Dale Lewey who served with him in the U.S. Navy and Col. George McKnight (USAF retired), who was a fellow Prisoner of War in Vietnam.
McCain: "We are succeeding in Iraq"
McCain remarked that at the Beaufort cemetery a Bald Eagle overflew the ceremony. That for him was a symbol of the "resurgence of patriotism and love of country" that is surging now that "we are succeeding in Iraq."
He amplified that point again by saying "we're doing a heck of a lot better" to the point where Iraqis in Ramadi recently had a 5k race down a street that was once known as "IED ally" (video here). McCain noted that "you didn't see that on CNN."
The job in Iraq is still "long, hard and tough" said McCain. And while the Maliki government and the national police are "not performing...local government is!"
And McCain made a prediction that "Americans will begin withdrawing" soon from Iraq.
Senator McCain pointed out that he had advocated since 2004 for the surge strategy that is currently showing such impressive results. And he credited the team of General Petraeus, who he regards as an excellent strategic thinker, paired with General Odierno, the "West Point football player" tough guy.
Moving ahead to future challenges McCain reiterated that we "need a bigger Army and a bigger Marine Corps." The Senator listed future trouble spots including "Pakistan, Iran and Syria" and made the point that deterrence, not war, is the best weapon. "A sizable enough U.S. military capability will make the Iranian leaders think twice."
South Carolina a Must Win for McCain
Once the uncontested front runner in South Carolina, Senator McCain's campaign has slid from 28% in Real Clear Politics SC poll averages to 4th place at 12%. "We need to win South Carolina," said McCain who added "we can win South Carolina...we have to get out the vote....I'm counting on winning South Carolina."
Why is he so confident? McCain said: "I am the only conservative that can beat Senator Clinton." And he backs up that contention by citing the most recent Rasmussen poll showing McCain beating Hillary 47 to 45%.
McCain admits that losing would be hard. He recalls what happened after he lost South Carolina in 2000, which assured the nomination of President Bush: "I slept like a Baby" he quipped. "I slept like a baby and woke up crying every two hours."
Tough Question from Mike's America
Q. Following Senator McCain's remarks he invited questions from the group. I introduced my question by saying: "Many conservatives in South Carolina were disappointed because you and Senator Graham (McCain's SC Co-Chairman) 1. participated in the "Gang of 14" to block the "nuclear option" and break the filibuster of President Bush's judicial nominees, 2. highlighted the "torture" of terrorist detainees weeks before the 2006 election and 3. Your previous stand on immigration." I also mentioned that many conservatives felt that they "could not trust" Senator McCain and I asked: "What can you say to them so they give your campaign another look?"
His answer was direct and clear:
"If you don't agree with the "Gang of 14" solution then I am not your candidate and you should vote for someone else."
Senator McCain went on to highlight the fact that under the Gang of 14 solution, the Senate did confirm conservative judges like Alito and Roberts. He went to say "I shudder to think what would happen if we had pulled the trigger on the nuclear option and one day Hillary Clinton was appointing judges." He asked me: "would your blogging friends still want to blow up the Senate" if Hillary Clinton was in charge? If so, I am not their candidate!
On immigration, Senator McCain admits that he's learned his lesson. "Americans want a secure border first" he said, because they "have no confidence, no trust in government" to implement a workable comprehensive reform. Under McCain's plan "border state governors will certify" whether or not the border is secure.
On torture: Senator McCain points out that "I have the same position as Colin Powell and many military leaders...those who have served will understand...Colin Powell said we had a 'higher obligation' and the morality" to distinguish ourselves from Pol Pot in the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the Burmese government that recently waterboarded protesting monks.
McCain emphasized the point that if we do it to the enemy, they will do it to us.
Q. Next, Tom Hatfield, Vice Chairman of the Beaufort County GOP asked if Senator McCain supported the Fair Tax, which is very popular in the South. You'll see Fair Tax supporters at nearly every campaign event in the Lowcountry of South Carolina this year.
McCain said that "As President, I would sign the Fair Tax bill into law" if it passed. But he has major reservations regarding the plan and directed those who want to know more to the Wall Street Journal article by Bruce Bartlett, "Fair Tax, Flawed Tax." Senator McCain is in favor of some form of "fairer, or flatter" tax and in an Iowa appearance, this video captures what he told us in South Carolina.
Q. Another participant said "10% of lifelong Republicans are fed up" with the way the party and our leadership have conducted themselves.
Senator McCain answered "I understand why they are dispirited. We built a "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. I would veto big spending bills. Then he turned again to Mike's America and said: "tell the bloggers no other candidate can match my record as a fiscal conservative."
He also wished to highlight to bloggers his "National Security record with 20 years experience." He understands what it takes to "secure this nation and needs no on the job training. If National Security is important to you then, I'm your guy."
The great thing about a small event like this is that the question and answer session is more like a conversation. You get a much better feel for the candidate's character, sense of humor and sincerity in a small gathering like this than you might at some outdoor event or crowded restaurant with 20 people shouting questions.
Senator McCain lived up to his reputation for "straight talk" and his positions are crystal clear. He certainly is NOT trying to tell people what he thinks they want to hear.
At no time did he attack his rivals. He did not even mention them by name.
My only disappointment is that Senator McCain didn't bring the "Straight Talk Express" bus with him from New Hampshire. Instead, he had a large recreational vehicle parked in front of the house. But that's forgiven by the following:
Priceless Campaign Moment: McCain Mom Goes Toe to Toe with Mike's America Mom
Later, as people went up to get autographs from Senator McCain (yes I did) I went over to say hello to Roberta McCain, 95 years young.
I told her that my parents are visiting South Carolina and since her son John brought her to this event, I had brought my mother. Mrs. McCain insisted I introduce her and the two were kind enough to pose for my readers!
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