Sen. John McCain, front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, discussed the leading Democratic candidates' policies on the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Iraq war and the economy during a town hall meeting at Dell Inc. on Friday.
Both Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York have criticized the agreement that created a trilateral trade bloc with Canada and Mexico. The senators said they favored opting out of the agreement unless the U.S. renegotiated the terms. McCain said such action would damage U.S.-Canada relations and unification against international terrorism.
"Democratic candidates said they will unilaterally abrogate that free-trade agreement," he said. "I will stick with free trade. I want to tell Canada, Mexico and our trading partners around the world ... I will not abrogate these agreements."
His criticism of the Democratic senators extended to differences regarding Iraq policy. The Arizona senator said that more Americans are realizing that the troop surge is succeeding, that casualties have decreased and that Iraqis are succeeding politically and militarily, "something Hillary and Obama said could never happen."
"I've said on a numerous occasions, and I will continue to say again, I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war," he said.
McCain said his presidential run centers around national security and the great threat of Islamic extremism.
"If I have to follow [Osama bin Laden] to the gates of hell, I will," he said.
He also voiced plans to make tax cuts permanent, generating applause from the crowd. He spoke to about 400 Dell employees, telling them that U.S. technological innovation was strong despite public concern over the state of the economy.
"I don't know technically whether we're going into a recession or not, but I believe in the long term, our fundamentals are strong," he said.
McCain's talk at the Round Rock campus came just days before Tuesday's presidential primary in Texas, where 137 Republican delegates are at stake. McCain has 1,033 delegates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 247 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul has 21. A candidate needs 1,191 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll last week showed McCain ahead in Texas with the support of 56 percent of respondents to Huckabee's 31 percent. Paul was at 9 percent.
Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Sen. Phil Gramm sat beside McCain at the talk and are among those supporting his candidacy. UT College Republicans President Brandon Lighton said the group does not endorse candidates before the primaries but is prepared to help the campaign now that McCain is the front-runner.
"Most people were for Huckabee or Romney at first, but now, most of the people are ready to support McCain," Lighton said. "It's what we're seeing on the national level."
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