PORTSMOUTH, Ohio - John McCain's Straight Talk Express rolled into Ted Strickland territory on the southern edge of Ohio yesterday as the Republican nominee-to-be sought to undermine the economy as a key issue for Democrats in a must-win state.
"If you believe you should pay more taxes, I am the wrong candidate for you. Senator Obama is your man," he told a crowd of about 1,200 at Portsmouth High School in remarks similar to those given at other stops on his economic tour.
"The choice in this election is stark and simple," he said. "Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won't, because jobs are the most important thing our economy creates, and when you raise taxes in a bad economy you eliminate jobs. I'm not going to let that happen, my friends."
The Arizona senator's focus was on a swing-vote region of Ohio that twice sent Republican George W. Bush to the White House while repeatedly sending Democrat Strickland to Congress and then to the Ohio governor's mansion.
As part of both his economic and energy agendas, Mr. McCain again called for the construction of 45 nuclear power plants over the next 15 years.
Joni Fearing, who said her father died from cancer after working at the former uranium enrichment plant in nearby Piketon 20 miles to the north, questioned the senator's stance on nuclear power. Piketon's uranium enrichment operations ceased in 2001.
"I feel strongly about getting the Piketon plant cleaned up and bringing alternative energy ," said Ms. Fearing. "We don't want our people to continue to work in a highly toxic industry."
The senator's support for nuclear power drew a positive response from the crowd, despite its proximity to the Piketon plant and the scare involving a cracked nuclear reactor head that hampered FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse plant near Oak Harbor in 2002.
"I served in the U.S. Navy and there are Navy veterans here who have sailed on Navy ships around the world for more than 60 years with nuclear power plants on them," he said. "There has never been a recorded case that I know of where someone has been injured, killed, or had ill effects of those nuclear power plants.
"I know there's been [Three Mile Island], and I know about Chernobyl," he said. "I know nuclear power is safe. I believe there are other ways of obtaining energy in America that are also harmful to health. I believe greenhouse emissions are also a danger."
Mr. McCain pushed his proposals to double the personal income-tax exemption for dependants, eliminate the alternative minimum income tax, cut corporate taxes, and permanently lock in tax cuts on dividends and capital gains that now have expiration dates.
Democratic nominee Barack Obama has proposed repealing some of the Bush tax cuts on people earning more than $250,000, and he has vowed not to raise taxes on those earning less than that. He has argued that the Bush tax cuts disproportionately favored the rich, and he has attempted to paint Mr. McCain with that same brush.
Mr. Strickland picked up that paint brush in a pre-emptive strike on his home turf a few hours before Mr. McCain arrived in Portsmouth. The popular Democrat rallied with about 75 Obama supporters at the Plumbers and Pipefitters-Local 577 union hall across the street from the high school.
"If Senator McCain were to be elected president, we would have four more years of the policies that are currently being pursued by George W. Bush," he said. "And if people of Ohio, Portsmouth, and America want four more years of what we currently have, then they should support Senator McCain.
"If you want more unemployment, greater deficits, more war, an economy that is benefiting the super-rich while the middle class continues to struggle that's what they'll get with a McCain presidency," he said. "Senator McCain has been very clear that his economic polices will not differ in any substantive way from those of George W. Bush."
Mr. McCain criticized the Bush Administration and Congress for running up budget deficits and promised to balance the budget during his first term, yet he appeared in Portsmouth with the President's former budget director, Rob Portman. The Cincinnati senator has been mentioned as a potential running mate.
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