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THE NATION : CAMPAIGN '08

McCain turns his focus to fundraising, economy

July 19, 2008|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

WARREN, MICH. — As Barack Obama travels on an overseas trip sure to dominate the news for days, John McCain is using the time to shore up his perceived weaknesses -- on the economy and in fundraising -- and to minimize the bounce Obama gets from his journey.

McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has spent the last three days raising money and talking about economic issues at town hall meetings in Kansas City and Michigan. He will spend this weekend raising money in the Hamptons in New York and trying to close the gap with Obama, who has smashed fundraising records this year.

Next week, McCain is expected to continue the economic emphasis during stops in Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio.

The McCain campaign has tried to shape perceptions of Obama's trip, dismissing it as a political stunt and accusing the Illinois senator of putting politics before national security.

"Let's drop the pretense and call this fact-finding trip what it is: the first-of-its-kind campaign rally overseas," a McCain spokeswoman said Thursday on Fox News.

On Friday, McCain threw in a few digs at Obama even as he talked about energy policy and tailpipe emission standards with General Motors workers here.

Obama, the all but certain Democratic nominee, is expected to visit Iraq and Afghanistan, along with several other Mideast nations and three countries in Europe. Obama had opposed last year's buildup of U.S. troops, which McCain contends has brought U.S.-led forces to the brink of victory in Iraq. Obama has also called for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. McCain contends that any withdrawal must be tied to developments in Iraq or it would embolden Al Qaeda.

"We will win this war," McCain said Friday, "if we don't do what Sen. Obama wants to do."

At a news conference, McCain said he wasn't concerned about Obama's trip. "I'm basing my campaign on our own campaign," he said.

The Obama camp has scoffed at the McCain team's attacks, especially since the Arizona senator urged Obama to travel to Iraq earlier this year and offered to accompany him.

"The McCain campaign should stop worrying about Barack Obama's travel plans and start focusing on addressing the pressing challenges that the Bush-McCain foreign policy has made worse," Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said.

Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster unaffiliated with the McCain campaign, said the Arizona senator did not have to try to upstage Obama.

"The debate is right where they want it: Is Barack Obama ready to be commander in chief and the leader of the free world during a time of war?" Ayers said. "It's far better to have that question in [voters'] minds than other possibilities: Is the economy going to get better? Do we like what's happened over the last eight years?"

On Friday, McCain largely avoided the issue of Obama's trip, focusing instead on hopes to revive the American auto industry through electric cars.

Acknowledging that costs of the new technology will be high, he called for a $5,000 tax credit for consumers who buy electric cars.

He spoke to workers about his proposal after GM officials gave him a tour of the design room for the prototype Chevy Volt, a battery-powered car.

"I would support tax credits for Americans who choose to buy the Volt and other automobiles that put us on the track to energy independence," McCain said.

He called the Volt "a key and vital and integral part of our ability to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil."

McCain also said that he favored federal support for the research and development of battery-powered cars and, drawing scowls from some in the crowd, that he backed efforts by states to regulate tailpipe emissions and to reduce global warming.

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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