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ON THE TRAIL / PLAIN TALK

McCain's words could be a disaster

January 25, 2008|Don Frederick

Is John McCain about to get tripped up by another issue of special importance to a state that finds itself in the political spotlight?

In Michigan, fresh off his win in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, McCain's comment that many lost auto industry jobs weren't coming back -- while almost assuredly true -- may have undercut his momentum. At the least, it gave Mitt Romney an opening to cast himself as more concerned about the struggling economy in his native state -- a message that helped propel him to a primary victory there.

Now, in Florida, a dose of McCain's patented "straight talk" is being used against him. This time, the issue involves a proposed national catastrophe fund -- a federal program that would backstop insurance polices in states where natural disasters tend to hit (like Florida).

Campaigning in Florida this week, McCain didn't pull any punches when asked his opinion of such a fund.

"I believe that this nation and federal government has an obligation to help out in any tragedy or natural disaster. . . . But I do not support a national catastrophic insurance policy," the Arizona senator said.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, who hopes Florida is where he will finally kick his GOP presidential campaign into gear, has wholeheartedly embraced the proposed catastrophic fund. And one of his top Florida supporters, state Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum, flat-out attacked McCain on the issue.

Californians, not exactly unfamiliar with natural disasters, can expect to hear more of this debate as the GOP campaign heads their way in advance of the state's Feb. 5 primary. The degree to which it is discussed, however, probably depends on whether Giuliani does well enough in Florida to still have a major voice in the contest.

-- Don Frederick

Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket

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