Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Little More Than "On Message"

PORTLAND, ME. John McCain;s "public event" in Portland yesterday was unlike any campaign stop I've covered. Part red and white checkered picnic tables and part jacket and tie affair, I was expecting to find a more sober scene outside the Maine Military Museum. It's common knowledge that the McCain campaign has been looking for ways of taking the media attention off of Barack Obama's trip to the Europe and the Middle East, but I was expecting a more spirited attempt from his schedulers.

To start, visiting Maine was an interesting choice by McCain. Though McCain could pass off the appearance as an opportunity to throw his weight behind Maine's freshman Senator, Susan Collins, who is up for re-election this year, she already leads her Democratic opponent up to 25% in recent polls. John McCain also faces a steep uphill battle in Maine against Barack Obama; the state has voted Democratic in five consecutive presidential elections, and that trend seems unlikely to change in a year Obama is making inroads in a handful of traditional Republican strongholds.

The McCain campaign likely chose the Maine Military Museum to surround their candidate with veterans and an audience that respects McCain's foreign policy credentials. McCain didn't hesitate to draw distinctions between McCain's military experience and Obama's perceived inexperience and decision to travel abroad to improve his international reputation.

"I'd rather be here at the Maine Military Museum than anywhere else in the world," McCain opened his remarks. Focusing on two issues of national security?America's dependence on foreign oil and the War on Terror?McCain worked to show that Obama's stances on critical issues fail to take into consideration larger policy implications.

Finally, after asking the veterans in the crowd to identify themselves (about one in four raised their hands), McCain vocalized his support for the current strategy in Iraq and General David Petraeus. Obama, McCain said, refused to condemn MoveOn.org's "General Betray-us" advertisement last year. The crowd booed Obama and cheered for McCain, but it was far from the rousing moment McCain would need to overshadow Obama.

McCain is the more experienced candidate, especially on issue of national security and foreign policy, but he'll need more than patriotic picnics and friendly crowds to chip away at Obama's momentum.

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