Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

McCain Visits Duval, Assails Iraq Pullout Vote; the Presidential Hopeful Was in Town Courting Votes with His "Straight-Talk Express."

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

McCain Visits Duval, Assails Iraq Pullout Vote; the Presidential Hopeful Was in Town Courting Votes with His "Straight-Talk Express."

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK

The last time U.S. Sen. John McCain campaigned in Florida, it was for President Bush. On a trip to the First Coast Wednesday, he was asking for votes of his own.

The Arizona Republican brought his "straight-talk express" Wednesday to a friendly crowd of 400 people at Fleet Landing, a retirement community once exclusively for retired military officers.

McCain spent much of his town-hall style meeting talking about the Iraq war, but he also covered taxes and federal spending, climate change, military health care and immigration.

It's the first of two visits to the area by presidential hopefuls. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is scheduled to attend a private fundraising event in Avondale on Friday.

The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows McCain trailing Rudy Giuliani, 31 percent to 22 percent among GOP candidates. The telephone poll, taken last weekend, surveyed 429 Republicans and those who lean Republican and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

McCain's strongest message to the crowd was criticism of the Senate's decision this week to set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"It's one of the biggest mistakes I have ever seen, and one of the most shameful and disgraceful acts I've ever seen in my 24 years as a member of the House of Representatives and a member of the United States Senate," he said.

Although McCain acknowledged the war has been mismanaged, he said he has confidence in Gen. David Petraeus, the new top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"The key to it when it's mismanaged is to fix it and win," he said.

Republicans did not lose power in the mid-term elections last fall because Americans were upset with the direction of the war, McCain said. He blamed the party's losses instead on out-of-control spending, particularly for such projects as the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.

McCain advocated the use of nuclear power to cut greenhouse gases and ease Americans' dependence on foreign oil. In a question-and-answer session, he said he supported overhauling the federal tax code, keeping illegal immigrants from holding jobs and offering high-quality military health care. …

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