|ON THE ROAD AGAIN|
February 21, 2000
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: How you doing?
RAY SUAREZ: The McCain campaign says there's been no change in message, no change in tactics, but in Michigan the Senator has clearly sharpened his assaults on George W. Bush, taking every opportunity to deliver tough critiques of his main opponent's record as governor and proposals as a candidate. On the stump...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Governor Bush used to call himself a compassionate conservative. Now he calls himself a reformer with results. And soon he'll call himself a Texan with tenancy. But the point is, my friends, campaign finance reform is at the heart of reform. In five years as the governor of the state of Texas, Governor Bush never made one proposal in a state where unlimited contributions are the order of the day. If Governor Bush is a reformer, I'm an astronaut.
RAY SUAREZ: He kept up the drumbeat on live broadcasts.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Look, I've said I am a proud conservative Republican with a 17-year voting record. In fact, far more conservative than Governor Bush.
HOST: In what way?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, spending: Spending in Texas has almost doubled while spending under Clinton has increased by 20%.
RAY SUAREZ: And he repeats that theme-- he calls it "contrasting," something distinct from negative campaigning-- while huddled with reporters in the back of the campaign bus.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The Michigan voter has only been exposed to it for two weeks, whereas they were exposed to it in South Carolina by... It wasn't just the television. It was the radio. It was the telephone. It was, you know, it was pervasive there. I just have to rely on the good judgment of the voters not to buy into these negative attack ads. Sooner or later, people will figure out that if all you run are negative ads, you don't have much of a vision for the future, or you're not ready to articulate it.
RAY SUAREZ: The candidate and the campaign say George W. Bush's saturation ad campaigns, direct mailings, and phone banks overwhelmed them in South Carolina. They say Michigan is more promising because of the short timeline, the need to run a lightning campaign. And heavy access for journalists compensates for smaller purchases of airtime, and gives the candidate the time to explain how a man so uniformly opposed by his own party on Capitol Hill would cut pork from the federal budget.
SPOKESMAN: I'm wondering how things will change once you become president as opposed to when you were a member of the Senate?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The way you do it is you campaign with that specific mission in mind, and i'm embarrassed that since the Republicans have taken over the Congress that pork and earmark spending has increased, which we promised we wouldn't do in 1994. Republicans broke a promise. They said we would cut out this spending, so i'm going to reiterate that promise and i'm going to be very specific and i'm going to veto bills that have the pork barrel spending in them. If they override my bill, then I'm going to make every one of them famous, because this is a disgraceful misuse of the taxpayers' dollars, and everybody knows it. And it contributes so much to the cynicism and alienation of the average citizen.
SPOKESMAN: Would you please welcome the straight talk express.
RAY SUAREZ: The campaign is also able to deliver some wow moments.
SPOKESMAN: And the next President of the United States of America, John McCain!
RAY SUAREZ: Rolling right up to the stage in an airport hangar aboard the campaign bus he calls the "straight talk express," delighting a crowd in grand rapids, in conservative and heavily agricultural western Michigan.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My friends, we're having a great ride. I'm telling you, we're just like Luke Skywalker. We're trying to get out the death star. We got a great victory, we took a hit, got one right in the stomach, and I tell you we're pressing on.
RAY SUAREZ: Here the candidates date stressed the same theme that served him well for months, mentioning his long captivity in Hanoi, his hatred of pork barrel spending, campaign finance reform. Here in Grand Rapids, he added something for strongly anti-abortion voters.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The smartest thing politically that Gary Bauer could've done is sit out this campaign, sit it out and say "okay, we'll see who wins." But Gary Bauer, because of his love and dedication for this country, was kind enough to honor me with his friendship and support and I will always be grateful for that. And I thank you, Gary.
RAY SUAREZ: At a rally on the campus of Michigan State University, the Senator talked about the low turnout among young voters.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Sometimes when there's such corruption in Washington, young people become cynical and alienated. That shames me. That shams me because I believe that public service is the most honorable of all professions. I believed it when I was 17 when I entered the United States Naval Academy. I believe it today. And I'm telling you right now, I will fix this system, because I have that obligation to you.
RAY SUAREZ: And in Eastern Michigan, before an audience heavy with Vietnam-era veterans:
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: We have 12,000 enlisted men and women in the military, proud, brave young men and women that are on food stamps. That's a disgrace. There will be no food stamp army when I am President of the United States. I promise you that. (Applause)
RAY SUAREZ: One thing this campaign does not feature in abundance is local Republican elected officials to back the message. Through Michigan, only state Senator Joe Schwartz stood up for McCain. From his 54 Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate, finance reform supporter Fred Thompson of Tennessee made the trip to the Midwest.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: It's just a bad idea to be giving unlimited amounts of money to politicians and have business before those politicians. It's just not right. We have a scandal in Germany now, we have scandal in Israel. We don't need another scandal in this country. It takes money, but the difference between John and the others is that John realized it takes money, but he thinks there should be a limit to it and not have it totally unlimited.
RAY SUAREZ: Afraid it may be all over by the time the Illinois primaries come in late march, state representative Jim Durkin packed cars with McCain volunteers from suburban Chicago to precinct walk in Michigan.
JIM DURKIN: Well, those people were surprised. No one has knocked on their door in years, and we had a busload of 60 folks from the Chicago area come down from the state of Illinois, travel through Michigan to blitz and knock on doors, and we had a very warm reception, and that was an area that was described as a very strong Bush area. And unless these people were lying to me, I would say that five to one they said they liked John McCain and they plan on supporting him on Tuesday.
RAY SUAREZ: In Michigan, the McCain campaign is stressing the appeal to independents and Democratic crossovers, and hoping it means more in one of the original homes of the Reagan democrats than it did in South Carolina.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Reagan Democrats are people who are attracted to a conservative, principled, visionary philosophy that they feel is best for the future of the country and America. I believe I will attract people because I will bring their government back, because -- which was stolen from them by the special interests, the lobbyists, the big money in Washington. That's why our appeal has been so across party lines as well as Republicans.
RAY SUAREZ: At stop after stop, John McCain makes the same promise: To beat Al Gore like a drum on the issue of campaign finance. The next 24 hours may have a lot to say about whether he comes any closer to getting the chance.