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McCain Underwhelms Shadow Convention

You might expect John McCain to get booed by some at his own Republican Party's convention in Philadelphia this week.

The Arizona senator gave his rival George W. Bush and GOP power brokers much political indigestion during the presidential primary season with his "straight talk" about campaign finance reform and his smashing win in New Hampshire. Sure, McCain ultimately backed Bush, but not all Republicans were satisified that the endorsement was strong enough. Yes, the senator said he wasn't interested in being Bush's running mate, but then came the last-minute circus about his veepstakes chances.

But what stood out over the weekend was that John McCain - Saint of the Straight Talk Express - was booed on what should have been friendly territory. On Sunday, McCain touted Bush as the real "reform" candidate for president at the Shadow Convention - set on the University of Pennsylvania campus, on the other side of the City of Brotherly Love from this week's GOP gathering. This counter-convention, if you will, has an agenda ranging from campaign finance reform to drug policy and poverty - all neglected issues.

In contrast with the audience's reception to come, McCain's introduction was certainly gushing and prompted a standing ovation.

"There would be no Shadow Convention without you," said commentator and event organizer Arianna Huffington, who called McCain the "the most prominent advocate for reform in this country."

Meant to give voice to the politically voiceless, the Shadow Convention was "not endorsing any party," Huffington said. Instead, she claimed it was helping build a movement - already afoot - to overhaul the political process.

That set the stage for McCain to rip his own Republican Party in his remarks - something that a few in the GOP feared was indeed his motive for attending the Shadow Convention in the first place.

Yet the senator's keynote speech took the opposite tack.

Though McCain said, "We need change, and we need it now," he added the Republican Party is his home and "still offered the best hope for renewal."

"I am obliged not by party loyalty but by sincere conviction to urge all Americans to support my party's nominee, Governor George Bush of Texas," McCain continued. "I believe sincerely he's the candidate for change, and that the vice president (Democrat Al Gore) is the candidate of the status quo." McCain emphasized that while he and Bush disagree over a total ban on soft money, they agree on everything else.

That party-line endorsement sparked loud boos from the audience, who expected more from the fiery senator.

Several members of the audience kept interrupting as McCain continued his speech, and at one point he said, "If you would like, I do not need to continue." Huffington stepped to the lectern and urged the protesters to be quiet.

"This is a convention where we can hear everyone with rspect," she said.

McCain did acknowledge that Americans are losing faith in their political system - and that politicians like himself are to blame.

"We have squandered the public trust," he said. "We are responsible for a system of campaign finance in which the highest bidder wins."

Still, the senator's overall tone toed the GOP line. McCain said his greatest fear is that the country is becoming fragmented into disaffected people who act only out of self-interest. The solution, he said, is to unite people by restoring their pride in government.

Though McCain's conciliatory tone was not what was expected from his Shadow Convention cameo, his consistent willingness to recognize the problem of money in politics - and take on those who would question that commitment - is hard to shout down.

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