In Virginia, McCain Vows an Underdog Fight
By Michael D. Shear
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- With three weeks left, Sen. John McCain debuted a retooled stump speech that diminished the harsh critiques of his rival in favor of a blunt admission that he is losing and a pledge to fight and "never give up ... never quit ... never hide from history."
Declaring that "nothing is inevitable here," McCain noted that his campaign is 6 points behind Sen. Barack Obama's in the polls, a stark admission as public polls document his slide. But McCain sought to turn his position in the race into a positive, calling himself an underdog and portraying Obama as too certain of victory.
"Senator Obama is measuring the drapes, and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending, take away your right to vote by secret ballot in labor elections and concede defeat in Iraq," he said. "You know what they forgot? They forgot to let you decide. My friends, we've got them just where we want them."
Speaking to a massive crowd of more than 15,000 at a convention center here, McCain offered no new economic proposals. But he spent the entire speech promising action to turn around the economic crisis that has engulfed the country.
He repeatedly vowed to focus his efforts as president on the average worker and homeowner, not the corporate executives or Wall Street barons.
"I'm not going to spend $700 billion dollars of your money just bailing out the Wall Street bankers and brokers who got us into this mess," he said. "I'm going to make sure we take care of the people who were devastated by the excesses of Wall Street and Washington."
The speech was loaded with pessimism, echoing the dour attitude of a country in which 90 percent of the people think the country is headed in the wrong direction. He said, "The hour is late. Our troubles are getting worse. Our enemies watch."
But he also suggested that his policies would repair the economic devastation and put America back on track. He promised to keep taxes low, freeze government spending, provide choice in health care, keep trade free, and expand oil drilling, nuclear power and other alternate energy sources.
"The last President to raise taxes and restrict trade in a bad economy as Senator Obama proposes was Herbert Hoover," McCain said, prompting boos. "That didn't turn out too well. They say those who don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Well, my friends, I know my history lessons, and I sure won't make the mistakes Senator
The speech paid virtually no attention to the foreign policy issues that dominated much of his early campaign. He spent just three sentences on the war in Iraq, pledging to "bring our troops home with victory and honor."
Instead, McCain attempted to convey the kind of empathy that Obama is known for offering in his speeches.
"I know what fear feels like. It's a thief in the night who robs your strength," he said. "I know what hopelessness feels like. It's an enemy who defeats your will. I felt those things once before. I will never let them in again."
In tone, the address echoed his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and his passionate defense of the war in Iraq during the 2004 Republican convention.
And it used some of the same, short, phrases, punched with emotion:
"Don't give up hope. Be strong. Have courage. And fight.
"Fight for a new direction for our country.
"Fight for what's right for America.
"Fight to clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness
"Fight to get our economy out of the ditch and back in the lead.
"Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
"Fight for our children's future.
"Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
"Stand up to defend our country from its enemies."
Posted at 12:02 PM ET on Oct 13, 2008
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