- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SPARKS, Nev. (AP) | Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain tried to strike a balance at a town-hall meeting here Tuesday between the independence he boasts of and his avowed conservatism.

“As many of you know, I’ve been called a maverick, someone who marches to the beat of his own drum,” Mr. McCain said proudly before being peppered with questions on offshore oil drilling, taxes and stem-cell research from a largely Republican audience that nonetheless displayed a range of ideological views.

The Arizona senator insisted anew he would not raise taxes if elected president and vowed to appoint federal judges like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, conservatives named to the Supreme Court by President Bush.

“Pretty much anything you can tax, he wants to tax it more,” Mr. McCain claimed of his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.

But Mr. McCain also told a disabled woman facing home foreclosure that he would step up enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act and assured a self-described cancer survivor that he supported stem-cell research.

That prompted local resident Doug Englekirk to tell Mr. McCain that he and other conservatives weren’t thrilled to be supporting the Arizona senator.

“There’s a lot of us voting against Obama more than anything else,” Mr. Englekirk said to Mr. McCain. “Over the years there are a lot of issues I’ve disagreed with you about, and I would like to know how do you assure me and other conservatives that you will hold to our values and give me something to be excited about?”

Many in the audience applauded.

Pressed by Mr. McCain for details, Mr. Englekirk criticized Mr. McCain’s support for immigration changes and campaign-finance limits, his participation in the so-called “Gang of 14” bipartisan compromise on the appointment of federal judges and his “falling in with the global warming crowd’s agenda.”

Mr. McCain assured Mr. Englekirk he was an “unabashed conservative” and noted that his “Gang of 14” efforts led to confirmation of a number of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees.

“I am in keeping with the vision of one Ronald Reagan,” Mr. McCain declared.

But Mr. McCain did not back off his belief in global warming and support of alternative-energy development, which is the centerpiece of his plan to revitalize the nation’s economy.

“Climate change, my friend, I have to tell you with all due respect, is real. It’s real and the question is, how do we address it,” he told Mr. Englekirk. “Suppose I’m wrong and there’s no such thing as climate change. All we’ve done is give our kids a cleaner planet. But suppose I’m right and we do nothing? Then what kind of a planet do we hand off to our kids and our grandkids?”

During a discussion of immigration policy, Mr. McCain, who once championed legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to remain as guest workers, toggled between the views of angry voters on both sides.

One farmer, near tears, told him she could not get enough workers to pick olives and citrus in her family’s groves.

“The only able-bodied pickers we can get are from Mexico,” she said to loud boos.

Mr. McCain insisted he believed border security was paramount, a remark that drew loud cheers. But said he understood the woman’s dilemma, promising to “deal with a temporary-worker program … so that a temporary worker is truly temporary.”

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