By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008
BATON ROUGE, June 4 -- Republican Sen. John McCain challenged his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, on Wednesday to a series of 10 joint town hall meetings, starting next week in New York, saying voters deserve "a new tenor" in presidential campaigns.
Less than a day after Obama (Ill.) clinched the Democratic nomination, McCain (Ariz.) delivered a letter to the Democrat's campaign formally proposing an idea he raised last month. In the letter, he proposed flying to the first town hall meeting in the same plane as a symbol that they are "embracing the politics of civility."
"What a welcome change it would be were presidential candidates in our time to treat each other and the people they seek to lead with respect and courtesy as they discussed the great issues of the day, without the empty soundbites and media-filtered exchanges that dominate our elections," he wrote.
Obama's campaign manager responded quickly, calling the idea of joint forums "appealing" and saying that the senator from Illinois would favor a "less structured" format that more closely resembles the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
"The idea of joint town halls is appealing and one that would allow a great conversation to take place about the need to change the direction of this country," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who added that "this is one of the many items we will be addressing in the coming days."
Told of Plouffe's response, McCain bristled, insisting that the debates must use a town hall format, though he said he would be willing to discuss minor changes to the "details" of the forums.
The decision to challenge Obama to joint town hall meetings was widely seen as a recognition that McCain is more comfortable in that forum than he is behind a lectern, where Obama is strong. McCain has said he won the New Hampshire primary in January because of his decision to hold 102 town hall meetings across that state.
McCain said he envisions forums based on an agreement that Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy had before Kennedy's death.
"No process questions from reporters, no spin room," said McCain, who proposed the first forum at Federal Hall in Manhattan. He said he will be there June 12, waiting for Obama.
Standing in front of a green banner that said "Straight Talk TOWN HALL," McCain on Wednesday answered friendly questions about the Iraq war, education and health care.
While in Louisiana, McCain said he had supported "every investigation" into problems in the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Democrats, including Obama's campaign, said that McCain had twice voted against the creation of a commission to examine the response to the storm. Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said that "whether he simply wasn't aware of his voting record again or he was intentionally misleading the people of Louisiana, John McCain certainly isn't offering us 'leadership you can believe in.' "
In response, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers accused Obama of launching "the same tired negative attacks" and said McCain was speaking about his support for an investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he said was underway when other commissions were suggested.
McCain spent the day with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, 36, a rising Republican star who many believe is on the shortlist to be McCain's running mate. Jindal was one of a handful of possible candidates for vice president who spent a weekend last month at McCain's ranch in Sedona, Ariz.