McCain promotes 'straight talk'

Tribune photo by Scott Wente HUDSON, Wis. -- John McCain wants Americans to believe his "straight talk" motto is more then a mere campaign slogan. Time and time again during a Minnesota and Wisconsin campaign swing, he used the "straight talk" ph...

Tribune photo by Scott Wente

HUDSON, Wis. -- John McCain wants Americans to believe his "straight talk" motto is more then a mere campaign slogan.

Time and time again during a Minnesota and Wisconsin campaign swing, he used the "straight talk" phrase and tried to distance himself from fellow Republican President Bush.

At a women's town hall meeting and talking to Minnesota reporters Friday, the Republican presidential candidate worked to drive home the point that he is a maverick.

McCain drew a strong contrast between him and Bush over environmental issues.


"As you know, I have had a strong disagreement with the administration on climate change," he told an audience of 800, mostly women, during an hour-and-a-half Hudson town hall meeting.

Saying that he traveled to environmentally important areas extensively, McCain said global warming is real.

However, he added, even if it is not real, and the federal government works to fix the problem, "then all we have done is given our kids a cleaner planet."

The Arizona senator regularly told supporters and reporters that Minnesota and Wisconsin are "battleground states:" "I will be back again and again and again."

McCain also said he would campaign elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, including North Dakota and South Dakota, states that many already place in his camp.

"We are going to have to be up there as well," he said.

After thanking volunteers at his St. Paul campaign headquarters Thursday night, and conducting other meetings and granting broadcast interviews, McCain stayed the night in an Oakdale hotel.

On Friday morning, he chatted with five Minnesota reporters en route to Hudson, then met with a few local business people at Kaladi's Gourmet Escape in Hudson before his main event of the day, meeting with women. While the town hall meeting was supposed to center on business issues, participants' 14 questions ranged from nuclear power to Brett Favre.


In talking to reporters and in the forum, McCain did not hesitate taking on anything.

As McCain was talking to the reporters, his Straight Talk Express bus was speeding past Minnesota corn fields. It was then that he said the federal government has no business subsidizing farmers who grow that crop, or any other.

"Let the market work," he said, adding that besides corn subsidies he opposes tariffs on imported sugar and all other agriculture commodities.

While supporting corn-based ethanol, he said that the federal government should not pay farmers. Subsidies distort the market, he said.

"We have to encourage ways to make that (ethanol) product usable," he said, without giving details.

All Brazil gasoline stations sell E85 gasoline -- containing 85 percent ethanol -- and the same should happen in this country, McCain said.

Most of the estimated 800 people who attended McCain's forum supported the candidate, but some were undecided.

Carol Worrell of North Hudson said she arrived not sure who she would vote for this fall. She left a McCain backer, she said.


"I feel much more strongly in favor of him now," she said.

The forum ended before many women with questions for the candidate were called on, and Worrell said she would have preferred to hear McCain talk about more issues.

Worrell, 74, said McCain is accused of having a temper sometimes, "but I think that's good," she said.

Small-business owner Bev Jagiello of Stillwater said she believed McCain gave good answers.

"I think he was very impressive," she said. "He's got my vote."

During the forum, McCain called on Jagiello, who didn't ask a question as much as she did encourage him to consider making Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty his vice presidential running mate. He dodged the question.

Two questions dealt with nuclear energy.

McCain said he favors the country building 45 nuclear power plants, with reduced federal red tape. He said radioactive waste from the plants should be reprocessed, as is done elsewhere in the world, or stored.


"Americans are smart..." McCain said. "They know nuclear power is safe."

He called for reducing federal fuel taxes (25.5 cents on diesel, 18.4 cents on gasoline).

"This thing is hurting low-income Americans," he said of high gas prices.

McCain pounded his Democratic opponent like most Republicans attack Democrats -- saying Barack Obama would raise taxes.

One woman in Hudson said she thought about asking him about the war or other weighty issues. Instead, she asked if famed Green Bay Packer quarterback Favre would return from retirement; McCain said Favre is a good example for children about being physically fit, but he ducked the question.

In preparation for McCain's visit, Democrats repeated their charge that McCain would give Americans the equivalent of a third President Bush term. On his bus, he said voters will not buy that.

"The American people did not get to know me yesterday," McCain said, adding they know he has opposed many Bush initiatives.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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