COLUMBUS - While the Democrat was away, the Republican came to play in battleground Ohio yesterday.
Barack Obama was greeted by hordes of cheering Germans in Berlin, so John McCain made a point of meeting with area business owners over a lunch of bratwurst at the Schmidt Sausage Haus on the cobblestone streets of Columbus' trendy German Village.
"I'd love to give a speech in Germany, a political speech, a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in, but I'd much prefer to do it as president of the United States, rather than as a candidate for the office of the presidency," Mr. McCain said.
The Arizona senator then pushed his health-care proposals at champion cyclist Lance Armstrong's second national Livestrong Summit on the Ohio
State University campus, a forum of 1,000 cancer survivors and researchers that his Democratic opponent had to miss because of his tour of the Middle East and Europe.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation selected Ohio for its summit in part because of the state's possible kingmaker role again this year as it was in 2004.
"I sincerely hope that the next president is here today," Mr. McCain said. "My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe, and tomorrow his tour takes him to France. In a scene that Lance would recognize, a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris - and that's just the American press.''
Democrats were quick to point out that Mr. McCain recently visited Mexico and Colombia, voicing support for free-trade agreements that some workers in Ohio have blamed for the loss of their jobs.
Mr. Armstrong and Mr. McCain are both cancer survivors - testicular and skin cancer, respectively.
Mr. McCain had potentially fatal melanoma removed from his left cheek in August, 2000, shortly after losing the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush.
"We are a country at war. We're here for a different war,'' Mr. Armstrong said. "There are a lot of warriors here, a lot of soldiers, a lot of fighters. ... The reality of this war and our situation is this year, 1.4 million will have this war walk up to the doorstep and say, 'You have cancer.' Five hundred and sixty thousand Americans will lose this war.''
Mr. Armstrong said the first step in any war is to pick a leader. He noted, however, that he has not endorsed a candidate.
Talking to reporters after the summit, Mr. McCain said he was disappointed that Mr. Obama already had come to his conclusions about Iraq before leaving the United States on his current trip.
"He simply did not understand that the surge has succeeded," he said.
"No rational person who saw Iraq two years ago can believe the surge didn't work."
An estimated 47 million Americans lack health coverage. While Mr. Obama pushes a quasipublic version of universal health care coverage for all consumers, Mr. McCain has embraced the private insurance market. He has proposed tax credits of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per family to help offset the cost.
Mr. McCain won applause when he called for streamlining the clinical trial process to bring promising treatments to patients sooner.
An ex-smoker, he lashed out at the way states spend tobacco settlement money fueled by cigarette taxes.
"A lot of tax money is going to states, and the states were supposed to use it for anti-tobacco treatment for tobacco-related illness and advertising," he said. "I'm sorry to stand before you and say not one state is using that tobacco money for that purpose. It's disgraceful.''
He said he does not support higher cigarette taxes to discourage smoking.
"I have to be sure that money would be put in the right place,'' he said. "To tell you the truth, I'm not confident that Congress would do that. By the way, I'm not for raising anybody's taxes.''
He said he would increase funding for cancer research and treatment, but he wouldn't commit himself to a specific number.
"I know how to spend money," he said. "I'm not going to lay that debt on the next generation of Americans."
He does support regulation of tobacco products by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.
Steve Haptonstahl, an Episcopal minister from Minnesota and Cleveland, protested Mr. McCain's visit outside the Mershon Auditorium on campus. His wife suffers from bipolar disorder, and he continues to work despite being eligible to retire in order to keep her covered under his church's insurance.
He doesn't trust Mr. McCain's proposal to create state and federally funded plans to insure those with pre-existing conditions.
"Insurance companies cherry-pick,'' he said. "We are not their favorite people. Tommi needs monthly visits with one professional or another, and it's not cheap. It would probably cost us $30,000 a year, and we don't have it.''
Contact Jim Provance at:
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