Opponents Use McCain's Straight Talk to Taunt Him in Fla.
By Robert Barnes
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Sen. John McCain at times on his Florida swing seems to be testing his own supporters' appetite for straight talk.
He heads to the Everglades today for an airboat tour of the famed River of Grass and to state his allegiance to its protection, a rite always expected by the state's voters.
But even before he spotted a gator, he was answering questions about his opposition to a $2 billion Everglades restoration project whose flaw, he said, was that it was included in an omnibus spending bill that contained other projects that weren't needed.
At the same time, McCain was dogged by Florida Democrats and Barack Obama's campaign, who were pushing reminders of his opposition to a national catastrophic insurance fund that would help homeowners in Florida and other states prone to natural disasters. Crist and former Gov. Jeb Bush support creation of the fund, but McCain has said it is too expensive.
During the primaries, McCain touted having gone to Florida and forthrightly denounced the plan -- as the Democratic Party duly reminded in a video clip posted on a newly created website, HurricaneMcCain.com.
The McCain campaign issued a statement saying the senator is opposed to the proposal "not because he doesn't have serious concerns about the cost of insurance in Florida, but because it ignores the need for private insurance reforms to broaden markets and protections against the cherry-picking of individual states."
McCain said his opposition to the Everglades plan -- another project supported by Crist, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez and the Florida congressional delegation -- was another position born of principle. In a somewhat chippy back-and-forth with an editor who questioned him about it Thursday at an appearance before the state's newspaper editors, McCain said: "I do not, and will not, and am proud not to have, voted for omnibus spending bills," McCain said.
McCain frequently touts his let-the-chips-fall attitude as a sign of his independence. "Here comes a little straight talk," he told a questioner this week who McCain felt would not like the answer that followed.
At times, it is explaining an illegal immigration position at odds with his Republican base, or defending the unpopular war in Iraq, as he does at most campaign stops and did again with the Florida newspaper editors.
"I can look you in the eye and tell you it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, but we are winning in Iraq now," he said.
It might be even harder to explain to voters in Florida and other states that valued local initiatives, such as Everglades protection and proposals to bring down homeowner insurance rates, are pork rather than priorities.
But the McCain campaign points out that the senator's stands on the issues were well-known to Florida voters, who gave him a pivotal victory in the state's primary.
Posted at 1:20 PM ET on Jun 6, 2008
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