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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

McCain finishes Mich. trip, fund-raisers

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sen. John McCain, standing with his wife Cindy, center, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) talk with Steve Boergert, seated left, and Jon Reusch, seated right, during a campaign stop at Kerby's Koney Island diner in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., yesterday. associated press Sen. John McCain, standing with his wife Cindy, center, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) talk with Steve Boergert, seated left, and Jon Reusch, seated right, during a campaign stop at Kerby's Koney Island diner in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., yesterday. associated press
MARY ALTAFFER / AP Enlarge

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - John McCain talked with diners at a restaurant yesterday morning as the Republican presidential candidate wrapped up a fund-raising trip to Michigan.

Mr. McCain stopped at Kerby's Koney Island in Bloomfield Hills.

Asked about how well Mr. McCain can expect to do in Michigan against Democratic rival Barack Obama, diner Lynn Zugay of Macomb noted that "a lot of people just want change right now, and Senator Obama represents more change." But Ms. Zugay said Mr. McCain's experience should trump that.

After talking with diners, the Arizona senator, wife Cindy McCain, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham moved to another room where the McCain campaign says they spoke with four women facing economic struggles.

Mr. McCain came to Michigan Wednesday to attend three fund-raisers and tour an aerospace plant. He also expressed support for the state's beleaguered automakers.

Cindy McCain was still wearing a sling yesterday for a minor sprain she suffered after someone the day before shook her hand too firmly at a fund-raiser.

Mr. McCain's schedule reflects a change in his campaign strategy.

For months, John McCain's presidential campaign was a near-constant swirl of free-ranging chats with voters, garrulous sessions with reporters, and quips from the candidate that often had little to do with the day's planned message.

But with a dozen weeks to go, Mr. McCain's campaign has notably limited his exposure to national reporters and even voters, devoting more time to private fund-raisers, interviews with local journalists, and events designed for TV cameras.

This week, for example, Mr. McCain conducted only one large "town hall" event and one full news conference, but at least seven fund-raisers and a string of interviews with reporters, mostly from local newspapers, radio, and TV stations.

From here on, "you'll see a campaign that is better at staying on message," said Mr. Graham (R., S.C.), a close associate who probably travels with Mr. McCain more than anyone outside his staff and family.

Mr. McCain will still hold town hall forums and take questions from national journalists, Mr. Graham said in an interview aboard the campaign plane yesterday as Mr. McCain traveled from Michigan to Colorado. However, he said, "our problem is to keep these interactions to a manageable point."

Mr. McCain's advisers have long struggled for ways to keep him more disciplined and focused without entirely sacrificing his rambling talks with reporters on his bus and voters in gyms and meeting halls. Mr. McCain thrives on such activities, and they often show an appealing, impish side.

But they also subject him to questions of all sorts, making it impossible to focus on a chosen message. Worse, they sometimes prompt Mr. McCain to ponder the questions with a long, puzzled expression - as he did last month when a Los Angeles Times reporter asked about insurance coverage for Viagra and birth control - that opponents love to distribute on the Internet.

In response, the campaign recently stopped opening the "Straight Talk Express" bus to the roughly two dozen journalists who travel with him regularly. Mr. McCain still calls on them in news conferences, but those, too, have become less frequent.

Advisers also appear to be slowing Mr. McCain down a bit and giving him some rest, especially this week, when many Americans are distracted by the Olympic Games and summer vacations.

Democratic opponent Barack Obama is vacationing in Hawaii, further reducing the pressure on Mr. McCain to fight for attention.

Sandwiched between three fund-raisers in Colorado, Mr. McCain attended an economic forum yesterday at the Aspen Institute, where he displayed the shoot-from-the-hip tendency his aides want to tame. He chastised Congress for going on recess "while people are paying $3.75 a gallon for gas."

The audience of 800 began hooting and laughing, yelling out that gas is selling for nearly $5 a gallon in the Aspen area. Mr. McCain recovered with a well-received crack about plans to "soak the rich."

Mr. McCain was scheduled to have no public events today, when he will meet with top aides, and only one tomorrow: a televised forum on faith, in California, where Mr. Obama is to appear separately.

In related news, Mr. McCain won a round against Democrats yesterday when the Federal Election Commission rejected their contention that he violated campaign finance laws during the GOP primary.

The FEC's draft opinion affirms Mr. McCain's right to bypass the public financing system and the strict spending limits that come with it. That was a rejection of the Democratic National Committee's complaint asserting that Mr. McCain's campaign had wrongly received loans based on his participation in public financing before later withdrawing from that system.



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