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McCain invokes Reagan’s values in campaign stops

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Sen. John McCain, who has visited Alabama more than any other presidential candidate, repeatedly used the words “common sense” and “conservative values” Tuesday as he sought to gain Republican support in the early primary state.

McCain attended a $50-per-person fundraiser for the Alabama Republican Party and addressed the Alabama Legislature, where he was introduced by Republican Gov. Bob Riley. The Arizona senator backed the troop buildup in Iraq, limited government, more parental choice when local schools fail children, and opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants.

His visit follows a recent statewide poll showing former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani favored by 28 percent of likely Republican voters and McCain by 23 percent, even though Giuliani hasn’t campaigned in Alabama.

“I don’t think people have focused a great deal on campaigns,” McCain said. By the time the state’s primary arrives on Feb. 5, 2008, “I am confident we will do very well,” he said.

At the Legislature, McCain talked about “a return to conservative values, Ronald Reagan-style common sense.”

Complaining that too much government stymies creativity and innovation, McCain said that government “has grown so overbearing that it has displaced our ability to rely on our own common sense.”

He advocated that parents be empowered to send their children to the school of their choice when their local schools fail to improve.

“Allowing the free market to work in our educational system is one way to restore common sense conservative values,” McCain said.

Speaking at the Republican Party fundraiser, McCain never mentioned President Bush by name, but he called the administration’s troop buildup in Iraq “a good strategy.”

“If we withdraw, as many of my colleagues want to do, we will see chaos. We will see genocide. And we will see us back,” McCain said.

Addressing illegal immigration, McCain said he opposes giving amnesty to any illegal immigrants, even those who have been in America many years. “We cannot reward illegal behavior,” he said.

McCain’s speech to the Republican fundraiser was unscripted and more lively than his formal address to the Legislature, where he twice stumbled over his prepared remarks.

Gerald Johnson, a former political science professor at Au-burn University who is now a pollster for the Alabama Education Association, said he has admired McCain for years, but his speech to the Legislature lacked the “grit and glint” that made him a popular senator.

“To the extent it was an opportunity, it was a missed opportunity,” Johnson said.

Johnson conducted the poll earlier this month showing Giuliani and McCain as the Republican frontrunners in Alabama, followed closely by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Oops!

In McCain’s speech, he had a blooper where he attributed a quotation to the governor that actually came from state Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, in the Democratic response to Riley’s latest State of the State speech.

Riley had proposed cutting taxes that support public education, while Mitchem urged that the school money be protected.

McCain’s quote: “That is why I applaud and echo the sentiments of Governor Riley ‘to draw a line in the sand around our children,’ but not just here, but nationally as well...”

Mitchem said McCain’s quotation took him by surprise because his speech two weeks ago included “I call upon members of the Alabama Legislature to draw a line in the sand around our children and to resist any effort to take funding away.”

Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, said, “I’m not aware of any speeches Governor Riley has made where he used that phrase.”

McCain was in Alabama earlier this year to attend the inauguration of the governor and other state officials in Montgomery and then for a reception in Birmingham. He was in Alabama in 2005 and 2006 to campaign for Republican candidates for state office, including Riley.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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