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McCain, Palin visit KC area retirement community

Monday, September 8, 2008 | 7:57 p.m. CDT

LEE'S SUMMIT — He came to a place where young men dream big, a minor league ballpark. Then John McCain came to a place were old men relax, one of the nation's largest retirement communities.

Campaigning in Missouri for the second time in eight days Monday, McCain and his vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, are putting an emphasis on appealing to Missouri's Republican base - be they young or old.

McCain made Missouri a bookend to last week's Republican National Convention by appearing at a ballpark rally in O'Fallon on Aug. 31 and at a retirement community's event center in Lee's Summit on Monday.

The similarity: Both events occurred in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Missouri's largest cities, where McCain must fare well to counteract Democrat Barack Obama's anticipated urban voting strength.

"This state, we must win, and we will win," McCain said at the Pavilion in John Knox Village, where a capacity crowd of 3,000 people stood inside and a roughly equal number listened over speakers outside. A few people perched in trees.

Obama also campaigned in Kansas City on his way to the Democratic National Convention last month. On Tuesday, his vice presidential candidate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, is to stress economic issues while campaigning in Columbia and St. Louis.

McCain and Palin on Monday played up their opposition to earmarked spending while accusing Obama of supporting nearly $1 billion of specialized spending over several years as a U.S. senator from Illinois. Obama hasn't asked for any earmarks this year; last year, he sought $311 million worth.

"I will veto every pork-barrel, earmark spending bill that comes across my desk," McCain said to applause. "We will stop it, my friends, because it breeds corruption."

While McCain has long opposed earmarked spending in Washington, Palin has as governor of Alaska requested nearly $750 million of it in the past two years. But she has also cut back on such spending and rejected plans to build the much-publicized "Bridge to Nowhere" after Congress halted financing for the Alaska project.

The retirement community where they campaigned has about 2,000 residents living in everything from single-family houses to a nursing home. John Knox Village promotes itself as one of the largest continuing care retirement communities in the nation, and the largest in the Midwest.

But most of the audience consisted of the general public. A few dozen arrived Sunday night, sleeping in their cars in the parking lot or camping out on the sidewalk - despite rain - for the first-come, first-enter event, said Craig Faith, the public safety manager at John Knox Village.

Voters in the half-dozen precincts around John Knox Village trend toward Republicans. President Bush, for example, polled 3 percentage points higher in those areas than in the rest of the state while winning Missouri in 2000 and 2004. St. Charles County, where McCain appeared last week, is a Republican stronghold.

McCain's strategy seems to be to first appeal to his most likely voters, said Dale Neuman, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"You want to get those folks out and get them reassured. If you get them galvanized, they're not going to back away unless something dramatic happens in the campaign," Neuman said. "But if it appears you're ignoring them, or taking them for granted, or it appears you're not interested in them, they might sit on their hands or they might not be as energized."

McCain spoke for barely 15 minutes Monday; Palin talked for a little more than 10. But for a crowd that appeared to have a few more senior citizens than most, McCain didn't need to do too much persuading.

"Right now, we've got a whole lot of difficult items - the economy, jobs, war, security for our country - they all are important, and it takes someone who's got a little bit of age to him and wisdom and experience to run this country," said Paul Clum, 80, of Lone Jack, a retired real estate broker and Korean War veteran.

Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, one of several introductory speakers, promoted McCain and Palin as the "real change ticket" who have "fought for reform and accomplished it."

About 100 Obama supporters demonstrated across the street from McCain's event.

Bettina Evans, 49, of nearby Raytown, cited recent Obama campaign commercials airing in Missouri that highlight how McCain, as a senator from Arizona, voted with Republican President Bush about 90 percent of the time.

"He wins the primary, gets a sidekick who's a woman and, all of the sudden, he's about change," said Evans, who was laid off by a tax-preparing firm earlier this year. "I don't think he has his own message, his own cause. He's piggybacking off of Obama's cause."

 


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