ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. - At a town hall meeting at Oakland University, Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Wednesday said technological advances in Michigan's automotive industry were the key to revitalizing the state's failing economy.
Echoing remarks he made throughout Michigan in the run-up to the state's Jan. 15 Republican primary, the Arizona senator urged Michigan automakers to develop new green technologies like hybrid cars and ethanol- and hydrogen-powered cars in order to become competitive again.
"The automotive industry in this state is not finished," McCain said. "Of course the old kinds of doing business is not coming back, but the new innovation and technology and green technology that will both eliminate ... our dependence on foreign oil as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions is right here in Michigan."
While Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remain in a dogfight over the Democratic nomination, McCain, who is all but assured of his party's nomination, has been visiting potential battleground states in preparation for the fall's general election.
Last week, McCain spoke in Florida, Iowa and Ohio, which have traditionally been swing states in presidential elections, before stopping in Oakland County.
In addition to outlining his plans to bolster Michigan's economy, McCain fielded a slew of questions from the audience inside Oakland University's Shotwell-Gustafson Pavilion about his positions on various domestic and international issues, including American oil drilling, Great Lakes water conservation and the war in Iraq.
Although he said he personally supported oil drilling on the coasts of states like California and Mississippi and said he believed more incentives could be offered to states to support such projects, McCain stressed that it is ultimately the state's decision whether to drill for oil or not.
"I can't tell states what to do with their most pristine areas," he said. "I believe in the rights of states to make those decisions."
When asked whether he would support piping water from the Great Lakes to drier southwestern states, McCain said that "people in states that border on the Great Lakes will be the ones to decide what happens to the water in the Great Lakes."
In a brief prepared speech delivered before taking questions from audience members, McCain said he would address the problem of human trafficking in the United States and abroad with the creation of a new federal taskforce that would "focus exclusively on the prosecution of human traffickers and the rescue of their victims."
McCain described human trafficking as "a modern form of slavery" and also "a serious problem here in the United States," citing State Department statistics that estimate that between 15,000 and 18,000 human slaves are brought into the United States each year.
His proposed "Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking," he said, "will strengthen cooperation between federal officials, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors to ensure that jurisdictional issues are not a barrier to success, and that we have coordinated international response to this scourge."
Candace Booth, a Bloomfield Township resident who attended McCain's visit, said she thought McCain's success in working with members of both parties - such as his past partnerships with Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wi.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) - made him the best candidate in the field for he presidency.
"I like the fact that he looks at the issues and finds a way to do it - no matter what or who's involved," she said.
Ken Hreha, a resident of Dryden, said McCain's hour-and-a-half town hall meeting left him disappointed because the senator neglected to discuss both his new health care proposal - which proposes giving individuals and families tax credits to pay for health insurance - and how he plans to deal with the ongoing credit crunch throughout the country.
Hreha also said that while he thought McCain's call for alternative fuels was spot on, he said he believed the candidate glossed over how much American automakers have done to make their cars more fuel efficient in the last 20 years.
"He never built a car," Hreha said. "I loved that he talked about alternative fuels, that's great, but he never talks about the progress that's been made so far in the U.S."
Across the street from where McCain spoke a small band of protesters carried signs that read "Who wants peace anyway?" while chanting slogans like "Bush, McCain: More of the same" and "Outsource McCain."
Melissa Connolly, who graduated from Oakland University this spring, said she was "just doing her patriotic duty" by protesting McCain's visit.
Connolly said she felt ambivalently about the war in Iraq because she disagreed with the reasons given to invade the country but didn't want to appear as if she didn't support American troops there. Still, she said she disagreed with McCain's foreign policy as it pertains to the war, especially the senator's claim that American troops could maintain a presence in Iraq for 100 years.
"We're there (in Iraq) so we have to do something," she said. "But surges and 100-year wars aren't the way to make friends and help Iraqis take control of their country."