- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama hasn’t yet accepted Sen. John McCain’s invitation for 10 town hall meetings, so Thursday evening the presumed Republican presidential nominee went ahead without him.

Mr. McCain used a nationally televised town hall from New York City to make his case that the two men have a chance to cut through partisanship in Washington by doing joint appearances to tackle the issues on voters’ minds.

“I think Americans are tired, they’re tired of the spin rooms, they’re tired of the sound bites,” he said.

After Mr. Obama wrapped up Democrats’ nomination last week, Mr. McCain issued his challenge, hoping the head-to-head match-ups would help him keep Mr. Obama from running away with the election.

But the pitfalls of such a performance were also apparent Thursday night, with Mr. McCain’s best moment coming from his friendly audience rather than himself. The final questioner was a self-identified conservative Hispanic voter who said as a Catholic, as a father and as a Hispanic American, Mr. McCain’s policies were very attractive to him.

By contrast, Mr. McCain stumbled his way through his answer to the man, even appearing to forget or be confused by the question.

On the issues, Mr. McCain, who voted against both of President Bush’s tax cuts, accused Mr. Obama of favoring broad tax increases and says he himself would rule out ever allowing a tax increase.

“I don’t think you should raise people’s taxes in any time,” he said.

But it’s not clear what that means for the expiring Bush tax cuts - some of which Mr. McCain has said should not be made permanent to the full extent Mr. Bush wants.

The Obama campaign responded by pointing to a new analysis from a budget group, the Tax Policy Center, that says Mr. McCain’s tax plan, while cutting most taxes, would largely benefit upper-income Americans. The analysis says Mr. Obama raises taxes on the wealthy and lowers taxes on lower-income folks.

Mr. McCain also accused Mr. Obama of having “the most extreme voting record of any senator” and said the Democrat has not shown he can work with Republicans the way Mr. McCain has done with Democrats - with the Arizona Republican usually irking his own party at the same time.

“We’ve got to put our country first and not our party first, and too many people have that reversed,” he said, pointing to his teamwork with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts on immigration and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin on campaign-finance laws.

The Obama camp retorted that Mr. McCain was worse for having sided with Mr. Bush 95 percent of the time he voted last year, and said the rankings that found Mr. Obama with the most liberal voting record in the Senate last year were skewed because Mr. Obama missed many votes.

As for the joint appearances, the Obama campaign last week released a letter indicating he was open to some sort of joint appearances, but has not followed up with Mr. McCain since.

“I think that it’s not realistic to do all 10 given all the campaigning that I have to do since we just finished our primary election,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday.

Mr. McCain, who has adopted some of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign messages during the past two weeks, even seemed Thursday to be echoing her 2000 Senate campaign listening tour in his own defense for doing a full series.

“It’s the opportunity for you to talk to me, as well as for me to talk to you,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum offered to host two of the joint town halls in July.

Thursday’s town hall was carried live on Fox News Channel, which broke away twice for commercials. Fox said it would give Mr. Obama the same forum if he wanted.

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