Riding in a nondescript white van wearing Maui Jim sunglasses, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took a break from answering reporters' questions about Iraq and national spending to call his wife on his yellow RAZR cellular phone. After checking in with her, McCain described how one of the great experiences of his life was taking a picture with 30 Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas, before returning the conversation to issues of more national significance, such as global warming and gun control.
"Campaigning is great fun and a great experience," McCain said in an interview with The Dartmouth and other Upper Valley journalists as he traveled to the second of two Town Hall-style campaign rallies he held in New Hampshire on Saturday.
In the two Town Halls, one in North Haverhill in northern New Hampshire and the other in a packed Alumni Hall at Dartmouth, McCain spoke about government spending, climate change and the war on terror before taking questions from the audience.
"We Republicans, the party of fiscal responsibility, let spending get out of control," McCain said in North Haverhill. "Billions of your tax dollars are being wasted."
McCain cited a multi-million dollar study of bear DNA in Montana and the infamous "bridge to nowhere," a $233 million dollar bridge to an island in Alaska with a population of 50, as examples of wasted tax dollars. McCain, as well as Congressman Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who introduced McCain, emphasized standing up to special interest groups and reducing pork barrel projects to decrease spending.
"Americans have lost trust in their government because of this spending," McCain said in North Haverhill.
McCain proposed increased use of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas outputs, as well as the use of wind and solar energy. He also favors a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions in which corporations that emit less carbon than an established limit can sell their surplus emissions to companies that exceed this limit.
"Climate change is real," McCain said in Hanover. "We need to have an energy policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. I'm not interested in handing you a damaged planet."
McCain, however, said he was against a carbon tax on gasoline because the poorest members of society are often those who have to drive the furthest.
Unlike many of his opponents who support withdrawal from Iraq, McCain said he wants to increase the number of troops to quickly stabilize the country. McCain has been proposing this idea since the beginning of the war. With the implementation of the "surge" seven months ago - a strategy that some, including Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, attribute to McCain - the war has been improving, McCain said.
"It took nearly four years of failure before we fixed it," McCain said in North Haverhill. "The strategy of the surge is working. We still have a number of challenges but the situation is dramatically improving."
While repeatedly thanking the troops for their service to the nation throughout the meetings, McCain said that the military is currently too small. The Army and Marine Corps are one-third smaller than they were at the start of the first Gulf War, McCain said.
McCain cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements that Iran will fill the void in Iraq left by American troops as another reason for opposing immediate withdrawal. He spoke about the potential dangers posed by Iran should it secure nuclear weapons or act on Ahmadinehad's statements that he hopes to eliminate the state of Israel.
McCain also emphasized the need to secure U.S. borders, as 12 million illegal immigrants are currently in America.
Attendees at both Town Halls asked McCain aout how he planned to get jobs that had been lost to developing countries, such as China.
"Those jobs aren't coming back," McCain said in Hanover. "We've left people behind all over America. We need to train and educate people so they can compete. We've got to go to our community colleges and tell them to implement training programs for displaced workers."
If elected, McCain said he would be able to work with a Congress controlled by Democrats.
"I'm a proud conservative, but I have worked across the aisle with Democrats," McCain said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "I know how to work with them, but you can never compromise on principles or else you betray the things you believe in."
McCain won the Republican New Hampshire primary in 2000 before losing South Carolina and the eventual nomination to current President George W. Bush.
© 2007 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE