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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

McCain takes on Obama

He attacks his rival's 'failed ideas' and courts Clinton supporters.

June 04, 2008|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

KENNER, LA. — After months of ceding the spotlight to the battle between the Democratic Party candidates, Sen. John McCain declared a two-man race Tuesday night and wasted no time courting supporters of second-place finisher Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Using a mocking tone, the 71-year-old McCain cast presumptive nominee Barack Obama, who is 46, as "a young man" who has bought into the "failed ideas" and "big-government solutions" of the past. He even took a swipe at Obama's campaign slogan, "Change We Can Believe In," by offering his own new slogan: "A Leader We Can Believe In," which was prominently posted on a green placard behind him.

McCain has avoided directly criticizing Clinton in recent weeks, and Tuesday night he praised the New York senator's "tenacity and courage" and said she deserved "a lot more appreciation" than she received.

"As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach," McCain said. "I am proud to call her my friend."

In a speech billed by McCain's advisors as outlining the framework for his general election campaign, the Arizona senator strongly distanced himself from President Bush as he turned his attention to Obama, his newly minted opponent.

McCain told a crowd of about 600 people at a convention center on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain that "no matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. But the choice is between the right change and the wrong change."

For months, Obama and Democratic Party officials have tried to tie McCain to voters' unhappiness with Bush, arguing that a vote for McCain is a vote for a third Bush term.

McCain said Americans wouldn't buy that line. Listing his breaks with the president -- from Iraq war strategy to the treatment of detainees to energy policy -- McCain bragged that he was criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike. "I don't answer to them," he told the cheering crowd, as hundreds of other supporters waited in line outside. "I answer to you."

Throughout his speech, McCain ridiculed Obama's message of change by arguing the Illinois senator promises a return to big-government policies of the 1960s and '70s.

He also was critical of Obama's vow to set aside partisanship to accomplish his goals. "One of us has a record of working to do that and one of us doesn't," McCain said.

"He's an impressive man who makes a great first impression," he said. "But he hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters, to bring real change to Washington -- I have."

--

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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