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CAMPAIGN '08: POLITICAL AGENDAS

Top accomplishments of a 'President McCain'

Hitting independent notes, an Ohio speech envisions better global relations, lower taxes, the end of the Iraq war.

May 16, 2008|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

With an eye on independent voters who could decide the fall election, Sen. John McCain delivered a sweeping speech Thursday in the crucial state of Ohio portraying his first term in the White House as a departure from the Bush administration on issues from foreign policy to how he will deal with the Congress and the media.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee outlined a conservative domestic vision of reducing taxes, improving public education through competition with private and charter schools, and attacking the energy crisis with "clean coal" and new nuclear plants.

McCain's comments, coming after a speech Monday in which he said climate change was a significant world problem, signaled an attempt to revive his image as a political maverick -- seen as key to appealing to the same independent voters that Democrats hope will help them win the White House.

The comments also put some distance between McCain and the Republican Party's conservative base, already at odds with the Arizona senator on such issues as immigration.

"It sent a message to the base that the 'maverick' McCain is going to be the one running for president," said Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic strategist not aligned in the current race. "And that just sends Rush Limbaugh and a lot of conservative activists right up the wall."

Republican strategist Rob Stutzman said: "If the maverick doesn't run, he's not going to win. It's a change election. It has to be about the future. And he needs to give people hope that he can be a change agent."

For Merle Black, a political analyst at Emory University, McCain's choice of venue was as significant as what he said. Ohio is a swing state that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama lost in the Democratic primary to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. "The site of this speech emphasizes the critical importance of Ohio in McCain's general-election strategy," Black said.

McCain also seemed to be pushing back against the Democrats' tactic of portraying his agenda as four more years of President Bush, whose unpopularity rating is at a record high.

In a speech projecting the accomplishments of his prospective first term, McCain said the Iraq war would be over and most of the troops home. That represents a significant shift from comments he has made in the past.

McCain also envisioned an America with a larger military, restored international relations that end stalemates over nuclear weapons with North Korea and Iran, and membership in a new "League of Democracies" working to ease strife in Darfur.

Domestically, McCain said, he would reduce corporate and capital gains taxes, reform the tax code, end budgetary earmarks, retrain laid-off workers, and make healthcare more accessible and more affordable.

McCain also signaled a change in relations with Congress with a swipe at Bush, who has described himself as "the decider" and who has overseen a shift in the balance of power toward the executive branch. One of his controversial acts has been to append "signing statements" to bills he signs into law in order to limit their scope.

"I am presumptuous enough to think I would be a good president, but not so much that I believe I can govern by command," McCain said, adding later: "I will not subvert the purpose of legislation I have signed by making statements that indicate I will enforce only the parts of it I like."

McCain's speech drew immediate fire from Clinton, who said his vision of Iraq was an extension of Bush administration policies but who let pass the other elements of his speech. An Obama spokesman said McCain would continue Bush's policies.

Spokesman Hari Sevugan said: "While Sen. Obama agrees with many of the sentiments Sen. McCain expressed today, he believes you cannot embrace the destructive policies and divisive political tactics of George Bush and still offer yourself as a candidate of healing and change. That's simply not straight talk."

McCain, trying to seize some ground from Obama -- whose rhetoric of change has given him a commanding lead in the Democratic delegate count -- said he was the best choice for forging a new sense of bipartisan politics in Washington.

"Washington has been consumed by a hyper-partisanship that treats every serious challenge facing us as an opportunity to trade insults, disparage each other's motives and fight about the next election," McCain said. "I will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again."

McCain mentioned illegal immigration -- a flash point during the Republican nomination fight -- far into his speech, after comments about federal judgeships and before a call to national service.

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

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