John McCain knows Gov. Mitt Romney is his most significant opponent in the upcoming Michigan primary — and for good reason. Romney was born and raised there and his father, George Romney, was a three term governor of the state.
But McCain is full of fire after Tuesday’s landslide victory. In a blogger conference call from Michigan yesterday morning, he said he was “guardedly optimistic” and ready to “work hard” in the face of Romney’s “attack mode” on illegal immigration.
McCain said he was committed to securing the border and recommended naysayers ask Sen. Joe Leiberman (I-Conn.) if that were true. Leiberman, who has supported the Iraq war surge and is well-liked by Republicans, endorsed for and campaigned with McCain in New Hampshire and will attend a Michigan event this Monday. McCain called working with Leiberman a “marvelous experience.”
Some thought McCain’s hopes of winning were finished this summer after he sponsored what was known as the “amnesty bill” — which would have allowed a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. However, he has said he “heard the American people” and attributes a July 4 visit to soldiers in Iraq as one reason people still believe in him.
He was there to watch soldiers pledge re-enlistment, including 130 green card-holding members who joined the military to accelerate their path to citizenship. Two of those members, he said, were killed in the past two days.
McCain praised Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who accompanied him on the Iraq trip (and supported the amnesty bill as well). He even stopped to joke with Graham, who was in the room with him, about something — telling reporters to “hold on just a minute.”
He maintained that history shows the candidate who has won two of first three primaries or caucuses becomes the nominee so his camp must “accelerate.” He said his finances have improved, mostly via Internet funds, which will help in buying the necessary media to amp up publicity.
He credited town hall meetings and local media with doing well in the states, noting that in Michigan, he’s already received the endorsements of the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.
To take Michigan, McCain will aim for traditional Republicans and Independents using his mantra of lower taxes, job retraining and education and new federal policies.
“We can’t leave these people behind,” he said.
Michigan’s rough economy would benefit from a reduction in wasteful government spending and entitlement programs. One of those leading that fight is Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who McCain lavished praise upon, saying he was “grateful to have my name associated with Tom Coburn…”
“He’s torn the crown of Miss Congeniality in the US Senate from my grasp,” said McCain, emphasizing Coburn’s courageous — and hard-nosed — approach to reforming earmarks.
For the most part, McCain focused back on his best strength — national defense.
“The only major reason I’m running is because I believe I have the knowledge, background and experience in order to make the judgments necessary to lead this country,” McCain said, adding that there are “manifestations” of the challenges with national security and foreign policy constantly — like the recent threat of Iranians harassing American ships in international waters.
By November, he claimed, success in Iraq will prove he and other Republicans were right and had Democrats prevailed, Al Qaeda would be boasting of America’s defeat.
November is less than 11 months away and one reporter asked McCain if he had thought yet about qualities he’d prefer in a running mate.
“I’m optimistic but not that optimistic yet,” he said playfully. “[I want] someone who is very good at national security because we live in such a dangerous world…[but] also someone who has a good strong expertise in some of the areas I’m not as strong in as others.”
He mentioned Phil Gramm, a former Texas Senator and expert on tax issues, as someone who could complement his leadership abilities (though did not present Gramm as a VP option) but stressed that national security skills were priority in that choice.
Rounding off the call, McCain shoved each of his Republican opponents into a category of “less experienced” and advocated that his own candidacy provided the best to vote for McCain in 2008.