- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

Sen. John McCain, all but certain to become the Republican presidential nominee, yesterday previewed the strategy he will use against his Democratic foe in the fall: No new taxes, spending restraint, success in Iraq, and private but affordable health care, not socialized medicine.

The Arizona senator also said he was making inroads with conservative leaders who object to his occasional breaks from the party line, and that he planned to “compete all over America … including the state of California,” which has gone heavily Democratic in the past two decades.

Making clear he will run as a conservative, Mr. McCain used an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” to say Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton spouts a “liberal Democratic view” and that her challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, is “the most liberal senator in the United States Senate.”

“I’m proud of being a conservative Republican,” he said. “I can out-campaign them, and I can out-debate them, and I can out-perform them in what I think my vision for America is more in keeping with the majority of Americans.”

Asserting that he would reject all proposed tax increases — “No new taxes,” he said firmly — the senator said he also opposes the 2010 expiration of the tax cuts signed into law by President Bush in 2001 and 2003.

“For a long time, I have said that I thought the tax cuts ought to be made permanent,” he said. “For a long time back, I said, look, we’ve got to have spending restraint, the way that [President Ronald] Reagan did when he restored our economy when it was in the tank.”

He said that “spending restraint is why our base is not energized … and we’ve got to have spending restraints, in my view.”

Mr. McCain said he could “see an argument, if our economy continues to deteriorate, for lower interest rates, lower tax rates, and certainly decreasing corporate tax rates,” as well as eliminating the alternative minimum tax.

A fierce critic of pork-barrel spending, the senator said: “I want change to be, stop this waste of American tax dollars,” adding that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have both “engaged in [pork] heavily.”

“They’re talking about change? … Why is it that Senator Clinton got $340 million of pork-barrel projects? Senator Obama only $92 million,” he said.

On the economy, he also criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, saying the Fed should have cut interest rates sooner. “I would have liked to have seen faster rate cuts and earlier than they were done by him.”

Mr. McCain said he will go head to head with either candidate on the Democrats’ signature issue: health care.

“They want the government to run the health care system in America. I want the families to make the choice,” he said. “If we bring health care costs under control, and give families choices, and have medical-malpractice reform … we can preserve the highest-quality health care in the world in America.”

He denounced each Democrat’s plan as a move toward socialized medicine, and advised voters “If you like Senator Obama’s plan and Senator Clinton’s plan, go to Canada or one of the European countries before you make that decision.”

The senator also said he will debate Iraq with either of his opponents.

“Let me just remind you that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama both said the surge wouldn’t work, OK? … Most objective observers believe that it is,” he said. “I believe I can convince the American people that after nearly four years of mishandling of the war that we’re now doing the right thing and we’re succeeding. I think I can convince the American people that, continuing with this strategy, we will be able to withdraw more troops, we will provide a political and economic stability, along with military stability.”

Mr. McCain also said he was “making progress” persuading conservatives to back his candidacy and move past old wounds. “Primaries are tough to start with, as you well know, and so we’ve got to heal those up.”

“I’ve got the Republican leadership in the House endorsement, and you know the things that we’ve been doing. A number of the, quote, conservatives are coming over to our side,” he said.

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