The biggest challenge facing the United States in the 21st century is the "struggle against radical Islamic extremism," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday.
Beginning his address with jokes and humorous anecdotes, McCain spoke mostly about national security and terrorism, with brief remarks on the economy and the environment.
McCain said his experience serving in "every major national security challenge this country has faced in the last twenty years" has prepared him well for his role as the next president.
"I do not need any other job training," he said.
McCain, who spoke for about 20 minutes, emphasized the need to combat terrorism in the Middle East and catch Osama bin Laden, who might be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
"I look you in the eye, and I tell you if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden," he said, prompting loud and prolonged applause from his supporters.
Referring to Iraq as the "central battleground" in the war against Islamic extremism, McCain said he would like Democrats and Republicans to "join together to defeat al-Qaida and the forces of evil."
As president, McCain said he would make the Bush tax cuts permanent, reduce taxes on American corporations and adopt green technology in a "free enterprise, capitalist fashion."
Ana Morgan, a McCain supporter at the rally, said McCain's "character" separates him from all the other candidates.
"(By coming to the state) he has shown one more time that he is committed to the people of Rhode Island," she said. "He is, in my opinion, the only person that has the capacity to take the country ahead."
"He's a public servant, not a politician," Morgan added.
"I hope the candidates will pay attention to the domestic policies as well as to foreign policy," said Steve Jennings, who was representing Divided We Fail, a non-partisan group that wants Democrats and Republicans to work together on economic security and health care reform issues.
The group, which is a partnership among organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons, Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union, has had all the presidential candidates delineate their stands on various domestic issues.
"After the elections we're going to try and hold the politicians' feet to the fire and make them do what they promised," Jennings said.
But some attendees expressed their support in a more lighthearted manner. In keeping with the spirit of Valentine's day, one supporter held up red heart-shaped balloons reading "I love you" and a sign that read "McCain," with a heart-shaped "a."
Though many college and high school students were present at the rally, none of the Brown Republicans attended, said Herald Opinions Columnist Sean Quigley '10, vice president of the Brown College Republicans and second vice chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island.
But Quigley said he is happy that McCain has "a fair amount of support" in Rhode Island.
"I'm glad that he is showing good will to (the state's) Republicans and Democrats who could support him," he said, adding that he is one of the few McCain supporters among Brown Republicans.
Josh Unseth '09, a self-proclaimed "loud conservative on campus," said after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race last week, he has "no choice" but to support McCain. He added that he is "not excited about McCain being (the Republican) nominee."
Unseth said McCain "compromised" his integrity when e voted against a bill banning waterboarding as an interrogation technique on Wednesday.
"He has too many years to pretend that he's conservative," Unseth said.
© 2008 Brown Daily Herald via U-WIRE