In Michigan, Student Enthusiasm for McCain
By Juliet Eilperin
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. -- With dance music pumping from the speakers and high-schoolers screaming, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a group of supporters at a rally here that he would work to protect America from overseas threats even as he would boost the economy.
"I want to be president of the United States to give you a cleaner planet, a safer world and a better world," McCain, looking out at a crowd filled with loyal supporters and dozens of students from both a Christian and public high school. "You are the future and greatness of America."
Adjusting his stump speech somewhat, McCain emphasized economic issues from the outset by declaring his opposition to excessive government spending while simultaneously vowing to revamp retraining programs for Michigan workers whose jobs have become obsolete.
"We cannot abandon them in the name of progress, in the name of the information technology revolution, in the name of anything," he said, adding that community colleges could help give these workers new skills. "We are a Judeo-Christian valued nation, and we cannot leave these great Americans behind."
This rally, along with another one in Pontiac, was more aimed at announcing McCain's presence in the state than at converting undecided voters. Both events had plenty of students, in part because one of the senator's backers, state GOP Rep. Jerry Zandstra, sends his son to South Christian High School and invited many of their students to attend the Grand Rapids event.
"It's really to show people we've got something to say about the Michigan campaign," said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, adding that some of the senator's competitors went directly from New Hampshire to South Carolina, whose primary falls four days after Michigan's. "We didn't skip here and go to South Carolina. We're coming here first."
Still, most of the students attending the two rallies were seniors, and after the speech ended -- in a flourish of red, white a blue streamers and confetti -- several said they would back McCain if he was the GOP nominee in the fall.
Before hearing McCain speak, Natalie Visser, a senior at South Christian, said she was "keeping an open mind." By the end of the speech, McCain had won her over. "I like his ideas about developing the jobs, and the troops in Iraq and stuff," Visser said, referring to McCain's continued support for the war.
During his afternoon rally in Pontiac, a few hundred long-time supporters joined a smattering of students from Waterford Kettering High School to cheer McCain on. "This turnout today, on short notice, in the middle of the day during a work week, is evidence that McCain's campaign is reaching home with a lot of people," said JoAnn VanTassel, a former township supervisor from Lake Orion.
McCain, for his part, predicted he could repeat his 2000 victory in Michigan's primary Tuesday despite facing competition there from both former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. When asked by a reporter if he was now the "establishment candidate" after winning the New Hampshire primary last night, he responded: "I don't know if we're establishment. Whatever we are, I feel confident we will win."
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