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Minnesotans at rally urge McCain to attack

LAKEVILLE -- John McCain's Minnesota supporters gave him a loud and clear message Friday -- take a harder line against presidential opponent Barack Obama.

Several of the 21 people who asked McCain questions during a town hall meeting told him to battle the Democratic presidential candidate.

"There is a time for fighting," one man told the Republican candidate during a 70-minute meeting.

"We want you to fight," a Navy and Army veteran told McCain.

"I got the message," the Republican presidential candidate responded.

The men's comments, saying McCain was letting Obama off too easily, drew some of the loudest response from the partisan audience. Occasional "hit him harder" chants could be heard.

Reporters who travel with McCain said they never before heard such a public demand for McCain to go on the offensive.

McCain said Republicans must be respectful in the campaign, but he said he would explain the differences between himself and Obama.

"He is a decent person and he is someone you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said to a chorus of boos.

"We will be respectful," he preached. "I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments."

More boos followed those comments.

Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee, told McCain: "I don't trust Barack Obama because he's an Arab."

McCain snatched the microphone out of the 75-year-old woman's hand and said: "He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."

But McCain also took on Obama: "There is a record of him never having reached across the aisle to work with the other party on important legislation."

Friday's questions were much more partisan than McCain fielded during earlier town hall meetings in St. Paul and nearby Hudson, Wis.

He opened the meeting talking about the hot news of the week, the economy.

The only way to solve the current American economic crisis is for the government to buy bad mortgages, McCain said.

"As long as home values continue to decline, we are not going to turn this economy around," he said in Lakeville, a southern Twin Cities suburb.

In a Tuesday night debate with Democratic candidate Barack Obama, McCain said he wanted to spend $300 billion to buy mortgages that now are in risk of failing. In a Thursday ABC interview, McCain said he hoped the $300 billion could come out of the recently passed $700 billion rescue plan, but it could be new money if needed.

A top Obama adviser also was in the Twin Cities on Friday, claiming McCain's mortgage-repair plan is nothing but a reward for lenders.

"It is a reward for bad conduct," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said.

Durbin, visiting with Minnesota labor officials and taking to reporters, said McCain's proposal puts money in the hands of lenders who sold risky mortgages.

"Mortgage foreclosures are the rot on the base of our economy," Durbin said.

Obama's mortgage plan is to change the law so that courts can require lenders and home buyers to renegotiate terms of mortgages. Durbin said that would exert pressure to negotiate with borrowers even before going to court.

The McCain campaign said 2,000 people attended the event at Lakeville South High School.

At one point, a Farmington Christian school teacher rose to tell McCain her students had a comment: "Drill, baby, drill," a row of girls cheered.

"If you are not busy, we would like to take you with me," replied McCain, who has promoted more off-shore oil drilling.

Duluth talk radio host Carinda Horton, speaking before McCain arrived, said callers to her morning show say he has the wisdom, experience and trust to be president.

"He has spent his entire life serving us," added Horton, a military veteran.

She wore a button proclaiming: "Hire a veteran, vote McCain."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty introduced McCain, their first joint appearance since the presidential candidate decided not to pick Pawlenty as his running mate.

McCain was to spend the night in the Twin Cities before leaving for Davenport, Iowa, this morning. While in the Twin Cities, the candidate conducted satellite and local television interviews, but only spent one hour in the public town hall meeting.

Pawlenty used the theme of the day -- experience -- in his short remarks. In picking a president, he said, "one measure we look at is: 'Who has the record?'"

Former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny, who served southern Minnesota as a Democrat, said he supports McCain this year in part because of his experience. There is no comparison between the two major candidates' life experiences, he said.

"There is no comparison when you put it in those terms because Obama is too new" to have enough leadership experience to be president, Penny said. Penny leads a group of independents for McCain.

Penny said that he had more success in his six years as a state legislator than Obama has in his political career in Washington and Illinois.

McCain and Penny both entered the U.S. House in 1982 and have remained close since then.

McCain's Lakeville appearance was his third town hall meeting in the Twin Cities area and came three weeks after he and running mate Gov. Sarah Palin rallied more than 10,000 people in a northern Twin Cities suburb.

Obama has criticized McCain's economic plans at every turn, and Friday his spokesman said the Republican's latest proposal was risky and illegal.

"John McCain's response to the economic crisis has grown so erratic that, in the span of 12 hours, he completely reversed his position on whether or not his risky and illegal bailout scheme would be financed with additional taxpayer dollars," spokesman Hari Sevugan said. "Whatever position Sen. McCain finally settles on, experts from across the political spectrum have made it clear that his bailout scheme is a guaranteed loser for taxpayers and would hand our money to the very Wall Street banks and lenders who got us into this mess."

In La Crosse, Wis., McCain on Friday proposed a plan that would allow retirees older than 70 to keep retirement account stocks in hopes that they regain some of the value they lost in recent weeks. Current federal rules require those who reach 70-and-a-half years of age to liquidate their 401k retirement plans.

The GOP presidential candidate said he wants the rules suspended until the current crisis eases.