Archive for Sunday, July 20, 2008

For better or worse, McCain wedded to town halls

July 20, 2008


— John McCain was in his favorite campaign setting, a town hall meeting, when he spotted a promising target. "I'd love to recognize you first, sir," the Republican presidential candidate said to a man in a Vietnam War veteran's hat.

Instead of a softball opening question from a fellow vet, however, McCain got a lengthy harangue, as the man insisted the senator had opposed better medical benefits for veterans.

McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, politely said the man was mistaken. He finally broke it off, saying, "I'll be glad to examine what your version of my record is."

The July 7 episode in Denver underscored the iffy nature of a campaign strategy that McCain seems to adore. Town hall sessions - in which he makes opening remarks and takes questions for an hour or more - have become McCain's staple, and he constantly needles Democratic opponent Barack Obama for not joining him onstage.

But they are far from risk-free. They make it nearly impossible for McCain to focus attention on a daily message, and they have produced some of his most memorable gaffes.

At the Denver event, for example, McCain called Social Security's funding process "a disgrace." Hammered by critics who noted that Social Security has had essentially the same funding mechanism since it began, McCain later said the problem is that today's young workers may not receive the program's full benefits unless Congress revamps its structure.

Earlier at a New Hampshire town hall, McCain told an anti-war voter that the U.S. presence in Iraq could last "100 years." Obama pounced, although McCain indicated he was talking of a peacekeeping role similar to that still played by U.S. troops in South Korea rather than a century of combat.

As for trying to deliver a well-focused message in town halls, a recent article in The Gazette of Colorado Springs summed up the challenge. McCain "came to Denver to talk about the economy," the paper reported, "but ended up discussing everything from Social Security to articles of impeachment during a town hall meeting."

Despite such pitfalls, the question-and-answer forums serve McCain well in many ways. He appears confident, engaged and often witty. Audiences applaud him for fielding tough questions, and he almost never displays the quick temper he is known for. Allies and opponents agree that he certainly handles the exchanges more skillfully than he reads scripts from a podium.

With 15 weeks to go, McCain seems more devoted to the give-and-take sessions than ever.

"At town hall meetings," he told reporters, "when you respond for an hour to an hour-and-a-half to people's comments and hopes and dreams and aspirations, I'm sure that something I said today could be taken out of context." But audience members get to ask substantive questions, he said, and when they leave, they "know my plan for the future of America."

McCain's top advisers acknowledge the town halls are far from perfect. But they agree that the forums are best-suited for a candidate who cannot match Obama's oratory or fundraising clout.

"If John wins this, it will be because of the engagements he's had with the public," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who often travels with McCain. "It gives him a chance to show his strengths," he said, which include experience and a willingness to tell people unpleasant truths.

McCain takes the exchanges so seriously, Graham said, that after giving a South Carolina questioner an answer that seemed incomplete, "John followed the guy to his car."


Frank Smith 9 years, 11 months ago

He sure didn't show his "strengths" in a New Mexico town hall, nor did he in Denver, despite the adulation from the crowds. McBush is out-pandering every recent candidate this side of Tom Tancredo these days. His "solutions" such as OCS drilling, wouldn't improve anything for a decade and would ultimately make our situation worse. He's taking foreign policy advice (Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran) from the same people who lied us into Iraq, such as his chief foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann. From Wikipedia: "Scheunemann is the President of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which was created by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), of which he is a board member. He was Trent Lott's National Security Aide and was an advisor to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq. Scheunemann has been criticized for his close association with Ahmad Chalabi during the George W. Bush administration's campaign to generate public support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq."He only this week dumped Phil Gramm, the bought-and-paid-for ex-Senator who sponsored the deregulation of banks that have brought us the second largest failure of a bank in US history (IndyMac), and have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders looking for a multi-trillion dollar bailout.

Scott Drummond 9 years, 11 months ago

"Obama won't have any town halls. Have you heard him answer even a simple question? Uh, uh, uh, uh"Obama is a guy who was selected as editor in chief of the Harvard Law Review (no small feat) and who graduated magna cum laude from the law school (also a pretty select crowd as far as intellect goes.) I seriously doubt that he is less capable of fielding questions than McCain. As far as not taking questions. I don't really follow closely enough to know if that is an accurate assertion, but, first of all, there is no reason for him to take any risks at this point. He's cruising to a landslide victory in the electoral vote. Why do anything that risks upsetting the status quo? Secondly, he will likely clean McCain's clock in the eventual debates. McCain, by all accounts, has a terrible temper and, as evidenced in these town hall meetings, is not all that quick on his feet. It is not going to take very much needling, I suspect, from Obama to get McCain to explode or say or do something stupid. No sense in Obama letting him get acclimated to the verbal give and take. Instead, I suspect the plan is for Obama to knife him up so badly once they do meet that the old codger never knows what hit him. Politically, Obama will be going for the jugular and there is no point in getting involved in minor dust ups along the way beforehand.

Centerville 9 years, 11 months ago

How about this headline: For Better or Worse, Obama is Wedded to the Teleprompter

Centerville 9 years, 11 months ago

Obama won't have any town halls. Have you heard him answer even a simple question? Uh, uh, uh, uh

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