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McCain Previews Experience-Over-Youth Strategy


Republican John McCain was in Kenner, Louisiana last night. He called Obama a formidable opponent, but he said he's the one with a record to run on. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

(Soundbite of music)

PAM FESSLER: The hundreds of people who came to hear John McCain speak at the Pontchartrain Center just outside of New Orleans knew that this wasn't just another event in a long primary season. The evening felt like a celebration, now that McCain's fall campaign target had finally come into focus.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): You know, I have a few years on my opponent…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. McCAIN: …so I'm surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: And that clearly will be McCain's mantra in the months to come: Obama young, McCain experienced. The Republican said it was his opponent who looked to the past to solve the nation's problems, wanting to dust off old tired big government policies of the '60s and '70s.

Sen. McCAIN: Like others before him, he seems to think government is the answer to every problem, that government should take our resources and make our decisions for us.

(Soundbite of booing)

FESSLER: McCain said he wants smaller government and less spending. In fact, he said many of the government's policies and institutions have failed, not the least of which was the response to Hurricane Katrina, an especially sore point in this still-battered region.

McCain knows one of his most serious challenges in the general election is separating himself from the current administration.

Sen. McCAIN: Now, you'll hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, in every interview, every press release, that I'm running for President Bush's third term. You'll hear every policy of the president is described as the Bush-McCain policy.

FESSLER: McCain said it's just not true, that he's opposed the Bush administration on a number of policies, such as the treatment of detainees. Just look at my record, he told the crowd, adding in another swipe at Obama, the country didn't just get to know him yesterday, as they're now getting to know Obama.

Sen. McCAIN: He's an impressive man who makes a great first impression, but he hasn't been willing to make the tough calls, to challenge his party, to risk criticism from his supporters, to bring real change to Washington. I have.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: Still, outside, McCain supporter Steve Bunker of Kenner says he's a little worried that his candidate's up against such a dynamic opponent.

Mr. STEVE BUNKER: I think it's going to be tough because everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon for Obama. I think it's going to be tough on him. He's not the flashy shooting star, you know? But a shooting star burns out.

FESSLER: If the crowd last night was any indication, McCain might pick up support from Hillary Clinton fans who are now looking elsewhere. New Orleans resident Vanessa Stubb said she'd considered Clinton, but there's no way she'll vote for Obama after his minister made what she considers racially divisive remarks.

Ms. VANESSA STUBB: With the recent Barack Obama and his church problems, I completely went from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican. And I'm very proud to say that I'm going to vote for John McCain this year.

FESSLER: And for others like Stubbs, McCain made a point last night of praising Clinton. He said she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.