Making a pitch for pro-Israel voters, Sen. John McCain on Monday called for a worldwide campaign to force businesses and nations to divest from Iran and ridiculed his potential Democratic presidential opponent for being willing to negotiate personally with Iranian leaders.
With the presidential race evolving into a one-on-one race between Mr. McCain, Republicans’ presumed nominee, and Sen. Barack Obama, who is closing in on the Democratic nomination, Republicans see a chance to win over usually reliably Democratic voters by highlighting Mr. Obama’s voting record and calling him reckless on international affairs.
“It’s hard to see what such a summit with [Iranian] President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another,” Mr. McCain told the American Israel Public Affairs Committeedrawing several standing ovations during a speech laced with barbs at Mr. Obama.
“Rather than sitting down unconditionally with the Iranian president or supreme leader in the hope that we can talk sense into them, we must create the real-world pressures that will peacefully but decisively change the path they are on.”
Mr. McCain also for the first time proposed a worldwide divestment effort similar to the one that forced South Africa to confront apartheid and said that if the United Nations fails to act, the U.S. must lead a coalition of the “like-minded nations” to work outside the United Nations.
But the Democratic National Committee circulated a report that some of Mr. McCain’s own advisers have worked as lobbyists for clients who have done business with Iran.
The key issue is Mr. Obama’s stance,first expressed in a CNN/YouTube debate last year, in which he was asked whether he would “meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration,” the leaders of rogue nations including Iran. “I would,” Mr. Obama responded.
For the past week, Mr. McCain has attacked Mr. Obama almost daily for that stance and for his repeated efforts to explain it.
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Mr. Obama sought to add more nuance.
“I didn’t say that I would meet unconditionally as John McCain maintained, because that would suggest whether it was useful or not, whether it was advancing our interests or not, I would just do it for the sake of doing it,” he said. “That’s not a change in position, that’s simply responding to distortions of my position.”
His campaign on Monday said Mr. McCain’s approach is the same as President Bush’s and said that’s proved to be a failure.
“He promises to continue a war in Iraq that has emboldened Iran and strengthened its hand. He promises sanctions that the Bush administration has been unable to persuade the Security Council to deliver. He promises a divestment campaign, even though he refused to sign on to Barack Obama’s bipartisan divestment bill, refused to get his colleagues to lift an anonymous hold on the bill, and willfully ignores the fact that trade and investment between Iran and Iraq continue to expand,” said spokesman Hari Sevugan.
Mr. McCain’s campaign senses an opening on the broad question of international affairs, but also sees a chance to drive a wedge between Mr. Obama and Jewish voters, a large majority of whom usually vote Democratic.
Rep. Eric Cantor, head of Jewish outreach for Republicans’ Victory ‘08 committee, said both Mr. McCain’s consistent voting record and his overall view of the threats facing the U.S. and Israel will sway those voters.
There is no question he will be extremely successful in garnering votes,” Mr. Cantor said. “He has hit the nail on the head - the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East today is Iran.”
He said Mr. McCain sold out a breakfast with Jewish leaders held before his AIPAC speech yesterday.
The congressman from Virginia said Jewish voters can play a large role in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, all of which are considered up for grabs this year, and said the early polls suggest an opening for Mr. McCain.
Last month, the Gallup Poll said its numbers from April showed Mr. Obama with 61 percent support among Jewish voters, 29 percentage points more than Mr. McCain. Mrs. Clinton led Mr. McCain by 39 percentage points.
But Gallup said Mr. Obama’s Jewish support appeared to be holding steady, not declining.