Republican leaders break ranks with McCain

Author: By Stephen Foley in New York

And as disputes raged within the McCain camp yesterday, Democrats took another
symbolic step towards healing the party after their bitter primary battles,
as Bill and Hillary Clinton made their first joint appearance in support of
Mr Obama.

From inside and outside his inner circle, Mr McCain is being told to settle on
a coherent economic message and to tone down attacks on his rival which have
sometimes whipped up a mob-like atmosphere at Republican rallies.

Two former rivals for the party nomination, Mitt Romney and Tommy Thompson,
went on the record over the weekend about the disarray in the Republican
camp. And a string of other senior party figures said Mr McCain’s erratic
performance risks taking the party down to heavy losses not just in the
presidential race but also in contests for Congressional seats. Mr Thompson,
a former governor of the swing state of Wisconsin, said he thought Mr
McCain, on his present trajectory, would lose the state, and he told a New
York Times reporter he was not happy with the campaign. “I don’t know
who is,” he added.

Some Republicans seeking election to Congress have begun distancing themselves
from Mr McCain. In Nebraska, a Republican representative, Lee Terry, ran a
newspaper ad featuring support from a woman who called herself an “Obama-Terry

The McCain camp was reportedly considering launching a new set of economic
policies last night, on top of the plan for government purchases of
mortgages which he unveiled in a surprise move at last week’s presidential
debate. Possible options include temporary tax cuts on capital gains and
dividends. Mr Romney said he should “stand above the tactical
alternatives that are being considered and establish an economic vision that
is able to convince the American people that he really knows how to
strengthen the economy”.

With just over three weeks to go to election day, a new Reuters/Zogby tracking
poll showed the Democratic candidate gaining momentum during the past week.
From a two-point lead four days ago, the latest reading has Mr Obama up 6
points. A Gallup poll yesterday put him at plus-7 per cent.

The Clintons took to the stage yesterday in Scranton, a down-at-heel
Pennsylvania town that has taken on outsize significance in the presidential
election. The town, which has become symbolic of the decline of industrial
America, was childhood home of Joe Biden, Mr Obama’s vice-presidential
running mate, and is where Hillary Clinton’s father grew up and is buried.

“This is an all hands on deck election,” Mrs Clinton declared,
adding that only a Democrat could put the interests of struggling working
families at the centre of policy. John McCain sees the middle class as “not
fundamental, but ornamental,” she said.

Her husband praised Mr Obama as having the best ideas, best instincts and best
team for the White House. However, he focused most of his speech on his wife
and Mr Biden, and quickly disappeared for a campaign appearance in Virginia,
raising eyebrows among those who worry he has still not fully reconciled
himself to the Obama candidacy and is still smarting from the bitter
reaction against his contributions to the primary race.

McCain campaign staffers lashed out at the media for focusing on a minority of
supporters at some rallies in the past week who have gone beyond booing and
hissing at Mr Obama’s name, and begun calling out “terrorist” and “kill

Senior Republicans have sharply conflicting views about the direction the
McCain campaign should take, with some arguing that their candidate has not
hit Mr Obama hard enough on the shady associates from his past. The issue of
the Rev Jeremiah Wright, Mr Obama’s former pastor, whose incendiary speeches
about white racism almost derailed the Democrat’s primary race, should be
brought back on to the table by Mr McCain, many are counselling. Mr McCain,
however, has ruled that issue off-limits, for fear of being accused of
playing a race card.

The Republican candidate appeared keen to cool the temperature at rallies over
the weekend, at one point snatching the microphone from a woman in Minnesota
who declared Mr Obama was an “Arab”. He chided her, and another
man who said he was “scared” of an Obama presidency, and told a
booing crowd to be respectful. “He is a decent family man, a citizen,
that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,”
said Mr McCain.

Reining in the party’s supporters may be harder. A minister delivering the
invocation at a rally on Saturday asked Christians to pray for a McCain win. “There
are millions of people around this world praying to their god ? whether it’s
Hindu, Buddha, Allah ? that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons,”
said Arnold Conrad, the former pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church in
Davenport. Those comments earned a rebuke from a McCain spokesman, and both
sides this weekend had to slap down supporters for stirring issues of
religion and race.

The Obama campaign disassociated itself from comments by Democratic
congressman John Lewis who compared Mr McCain to the late Alabama
segregationist George Wallace. “Senator McCain and Governor Palin are
sowing the seeds of hatred and division,” he said. “George Wallace
never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the
conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who
were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights.”

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