YORK, Pa. | Sen. John McCain reminded Pennsylvanians Tuesday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama said the state’s small-town voters “cling to guns and religion” because they are “bitter,” a gaffe that possibly contributed to Mr. Obama’s loss in the state primary and might haunt his general election campaign in this battleground.
Mr. McCain told a town hall meeting that this state’s voters are the “heartland,” and “beam of hope and liberty for everyone in the world.”
His reprise of the “bitter” flap - an off-the-cuff remark made by Mr. Obama at a private fundraising event in San Francisco prior to Pennsylvania’s April primary - harkened back to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s successful campaign in the state. She won the Democratic primary by a 9-point margin, largely by appealing to the state’s more conservative rural voters on issues such as gun rights.
The Obama campaign respondedby directing attention to its radio ad that debuted Tuesday in York to coincide with Mr. McCain’s visit. The ad highlights Mr. McCain’s opposition to “buy American” laws that would have required the government purchase American-made products such as motorcycles from York-based Harley-Davidson, which recently cut 300 jobs due to an economic downturn.
“Senator McCain should spend less time attacking Senator Obama and more time explaining to voters why he opposed requiring the government to buy American-made motorcycles, legislation he called ‘disgraceful,’” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Mr. McCain’s stump speech, delivered to about 4,000 people at the York Expo Center’s Toyota Arena, also echoed the Clinton campaigns’ claims that she was the underdog in the race but was better qualified than Mr. Obama of Illinois to serve as commander in chief.
“I love being the underdog,” Mr. McCain said, adding that Pennsylvania could decide the presidential election if the race is as close as expected.
(Paragraph has been corrected.) Pennsylvania is considered a swing state but it has not elected a Republican president since George H.W. Bush in 1988. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry narrowly beat President Bush in the state by about a 2.5-point margin.
With seven visits to Pennsylvania so far during the campaign, Mr. McCain signaled he is determined to put the state in play this year.
He strode off the “Straight Talk Express” campaign bus at the event flanked by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who also formerly served as Department of Homeland Security secretary, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat who crossed party lines to endorse Mr. McCain.
Mr. Lieberman said the choice confronting voters could not be more clear “between one candidate, John McCain, who has experience, been tested in war and tried in peace [and] another candidate who has not … between one candidate who is a talker and the other candidate who is the leader our country needs.”
Mr. McCain of Arizona, a former Navy fighter pilot who was shot down in the Vietnam War and spent five years in a prison camp, said he is a battle-tested leader prepared to face unexpected crises such as the Russian invasion of Georgia last weekend.
Mr. Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii demanded Tuesday that Russia immediately sign and implement a cease-fire deal. “Now is the time for action - not just words,” Mr. Obama said.
But Mr. McCain contrasted himself with Mr. Obama, who called for a U.S. retreat from the Iraq war and opposed the troop-surge strategy backed by Mr. McCain that proved successful.
“We live in a dangerous world. We live in a world where we are not sure what’s going to happen … and it is hard to see around the corner of history,” he said. “But I have been in wars. I know how to win wars.”