'HE'S VERY, VERY GOOD'
McCain Calls Debate Important, Praises Obama's Eloquence
BEREA, Ohio -- Republican presidential nominee John McCain began playing down expectations for Friday night's first general-election debate, saying that Democratic rival Barack Obama is "very, very good."
As he met with voters and campaign volunteers at Baldwin Wallace College, McCain played up the importance of Ohio and noted Obama's "eloquence."
"All of you know the history lesson that the last person who succeeded in becoming president of the United States without winning the state of Ohio was Jack Kennedy," McCain said. "And that's been a long time."
He said the debate will be a major event in the campaign.
"Look, have no doubt about it, the capabilities of Senator Obama to a debate -- I mean, he's very, very good," McCain said. "He was able to beat Senator Hillary Clinton, who, as we all know, is very accomplished, very accomplished."
McCain said that Obama "was able to, I think, with his eloquence inspire a great number of Americans. So these are going to be tough debates."
"But I believe that on the substance, on the substance, I can convince the American people that I can reform government, restore prosperity and keep the peace," he said.
While Obama has decamped to Tampa to prepare for the debate, McCain has kept up his regular schedule, with a reduced number of events. In between appearances and on weekends, he has prepared for the debate.
For more than a week, his senior advisers have been traveling with him on the campaign plane, and parts of the afternoons have been set aside for debate practice.
McCain aides have steadfastly refused to say whether they have chosen a stand-in for Obama for the practice sessions.
The senator from Arizona is scheduled to leave for Mississippi, the site of Friday night's debate, tomorrow.
-- Robert Barnes