WASHINGTON — His new campaign ad mocks Barack Obama for being a celebrity, but John McCain spent his weekend meeting with an unusual range of celebs himself.
On Friday night he stopped by a free concert in Panama City, Fla., given by country singer John Rich, who unveiled his new song, "Raising McCain," as the Republican presidential candidate's Straight Talk Express pulled up.
Today the Arizona senator is expected to meet with Frederick W. and Kimberly Kagan, inside-the-Beltway neoconservative luminaries. Frederick Kagan helped dream up the U.S. troop buildup in early 2007 that McCain endorsed and now credits for stabilizing Iraq.
But Saturday, after returning to Washington, he huddled with a most unexpected celebrity: Latin pop king and reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, whose songs (which at times can be raunchy) have topped the music charts.
The meeting between McCain, 71, who has a fondness for ABBA, and the Puerto Rican-born artist, whose real name is Ramon Ayala, was closed to the public. Several McCain aides, when asked about the gathering, acknowledged that it was out of their area of expertise.
"I don't know anything about Daddy Yankee," said spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace, a former White House aide who is the main media liaison on McCain's campaign plane.
On Saturday, McCain spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez, who handles Latino media, gamely stepped up.
She said the two men first met after they were named by Time magazine as among the 100 most influential people of 2006. She didn't know who requested Saturday's meeting but said they planned to discuss matters of mutual interest, such as immigration and education.
"It goes to show that John McCain is someone who can appeal to anybody," she said.
The McCain-Daddy Yankee meeting is one example of how the septuagenarian's campaign is tapping popular culture, using celebrities as shorthand to send positive messages about its candidate and negative ones about its rival.
In Panama City on Friday night, the campaign made sure that Rich, half of the country duo Big & Rich, unveiled his pro-McCain song in the battleground state of Florida.
Rich, who endorsed former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee in the GOP presidential primary, played a couple of songs before a crowd of several hundred at a waterfront park. Then he said he was about to unveil "a rockin' country song about John McCain and what he's done for our country."
He launched into the upbeat "Raising McCain":
We're all just raising McCain / Everywhere across the USA / You can get on the train / Or get out of the way / We're all just raising McCain.
McCain, wife Cindy and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- a possible running mate -- strode onto the stage. Here's a fact that went unmentioned: Rich's partner, Big Kenny Alphin, donated $2,300 to Obama -- the maximum amount allowable by law.
So, can the public expect a McCain showing at one of Daddy Yankee's concerts?
Fernandez demurred. "This is just a private meeting," she said. "Then we'll see."