Republican frontrunner candidate John McCain strode into Nashville Saturday, 72 hours ahead of Super Tuesday, when, if all goes as planned, he will finally grab a prize that has eluded him for years: the Republican nomination for president.
Primary winners in Tennessee have gone on to become president in the last 11 elections, and McCain seems to have noticed: “We need to win in Tennessee,” he declared as he took the stage.
Right now, according to the polls, McCain maintains a 5-point lead over Mike Huckabee in the Volunteer State.
The crowd reflected that support, responsive and friendly as he hit his stump speech talking points.
First, The Economy, considered his weak suit: make the Bush tax cuts permanent, abolish the Alternative Minimum Tax, cut corporate taxes, and restrain government spending (he points out that he’s never asked for an earmark on the budget in all his years serving in the Senate).
Second, the War on Terror: Focus on Iraq in the war against extreme Islamic terrorism but don’t forget places like Glasgow, Scotland where four Islamic doctors tried to blow up the airport there. It’s worse in Denmark and Sweden and could happen anywhere, he says.
Vowing again to follow Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell if necessary, McCain also reminds the crowd, “Remember, setting a day for withdrawal is setting a day for surrender.”
He considers General David Petraeus one of the greatest generals in U.S history.
“Forget Vladimir Putin as Time Man of the Year. It should have been General Petraeus , one of the greatest generals in U.S. history. When I look into Putin’s eyes, I only see one thing…..K-G-B.”
McCain then unveils a new policy for veterans of war: “We’ve got to take care of our brave men and women who serve in the military, past and present. Instead of traveling long distances and waiting in long lines at the VA for healthcare, I propose a healthcare card that they can take to any medical provider near where they live. And we need to do more for veterans injured by IEDs.”
Following the speech, McCain fielded questions from reporters. When asked by a BBC reporter how his foreign policy would differ from George Bush’s, McCain mentioned the need to address climate change. However, he expressed unwillingness to enter into a multilateral agreement without developing countries such as China and India. When asked by Pajamas about potential running mates, McCain would not disclose any names. While he expressed confidence about winning the nomination but was unwilling to look that far ahead.
The rally took place in front of Montgomery Bell Academy, an elite boys’ school in West Nashville. The school has opened its doors to all political candidates as a way of bringing students and faculty into the political process and raising interest and awareness.
Eagle scouts from Kingston Springs pursuing their Citizens in the World merit badge. Their chief concern is to bring the troops home. Many students from host MBA and nearby Vanderbilt filled the crowd.
One of the Lost Boys from Sudan, a maintenance worker for Montgomery Bell, joined some MBA students.
Harry Potter-esque, Thomas Moore with mother Anne. Thomas is a student at MBA who turns 18 in November. He says he plans to vote for McCain. “He’s the only chance we got,” says Anne.
Caroline Price, Secretary of the Lipscomb College Republicans, with her mother Becky. “McCain will keep us safe,” says Becky. The Prices are from Chattanooga.
A John McCain look-alike. His wife says that the last time McCain ran for president, people routinely stopped him in restaurants and on the street asking if he was the candidate.
Ballerinas and best friends twitch and wait on stage in anticipation of McCain’s arrival.
Members of McCain’s Naval Academy Class of ’58. The five of them came from across the state to show their support. “We love John McCain,” they said in unison.
Sam Bartholomew, a prominent Nashville lawyer, introduced McCain to the audience. Following his introduction, wife Cindy warmed up the audience before her husband’s speech, telling the story of how she and John adopted a child out of Bangladesh who had been in Mother Teresa’s orphanage.
Among those who were impressed – a group of women having post-rally sweet tea at a cafe called The Picnic, next door to MBA: “He’ll keep us safe, and we like what Cindy McCain said about her husband being a good husband and father.”
After the rally ended and the crowd dispersed, McCain stuck around and signed autographs for supporters.
Gearing up for the general election? Vendors at the event were selling Anti-Hillary shirts, $10 each.
Noah Schwartz is a junior at Vanderbilt University studying political science. Jane Whitson, a.k.a. “Webutante” is a Nashville blogger and frequent Pajamas contributor.