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McCain Eager for General Election Debates


McCain, on the territory he "loves" -- this time the Reagan library debate stage last month. (Reuters).

By David S. Broder
John McCain will challenge his Democratic opponent to many debates if he is the Republican nominee, his campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters today, and will accept public financing of the general election campaign.

"He loves debates," Davis said at a press lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "We will want as many as we can possibly get "-- more than the customary two or three.

Davis said the campaign was still focused on nailing down the delegates needed to secure the presidential nod -- a goal he said should be reached by March 4, when Texas and Ohio vote. The continuing competition from Mike Huckabee is not a serious problem, he said, and has the benefit of keeping McCain in the news and providing weekly reminders that he is winning.

But much of the questioning focused on the general election, and Davis's comments suggested that the McCain camp is thinking of a matchup against Barack Obama.

McCain's longtime strategist said he regarded Obama's crowd-pulling ability as a "phenomenon" but remained to be convinced that the rally turnouts translate to votes. Nonetheless, he said, McCain has work to do to generate equal enthusiasm among Republicans after "two tough years" for the GOP.

Davis argued that Obama's effort to exploit the age difference with McCain as representing "the past vs. the future" would fail, because McCain "has always been the change candidate" since he entered politics.

While Obama talks about change, Davis said, "nobody has been a bigger catalyst for change" in the Senate than McCain.

Asked whether McCain, a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform, would accept public financing of the general election campaign, with its spending limits, Davis reiterated McCain's pledge to do so -- if the Democratic candidate also complied. But he said that Obama's fundraising prowess actually made that a harder decision for him to make.

Davis sounded hopeful about McCain's consolidating support from conservatives, pointing to the reception he received this morning at the House Republican Conference. "We have already seen a herd -- a landslide -- of Republican conservatives endorsing John McCain," he said. Rather than waiting for some "grand gesture" from him, as some commentators have suggested, "the grand gesture is coming from Republican conservatives to John McCain."

Davis said McCain could cinch the nomination by winning as few as 70 of the 138 delegates at stake in Texas, but predicted he would do better than that, now that he has been endorsed by the three top officeholders in the state.

By Washington Post editors  |  February 13, 2008; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , David Broder , John McCain , Primaries , The GOP  
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