McCain backers disagree on campaign’s focus

Joe Shearer

Lisa Pettito said she arrived at the Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation & Senior Center in Strongsville at 8 a.m., claiming to be the first person in line for a John McCain rally last week. After seeing McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Pettito said she “loved it.”

But for Pettito, there was an element noticeably missing from the event: no mention of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s past associations with radical bomber William Ayers or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Some thought McCain would continue Palin’s “palling around with terrorists” line of rhetoric in last week’s debate, but he has remained largely mum on those affiliations. By the sound of outbursts at recent McCain rallies, some voters want the Arizona senator to take a harder line. Like Pettito, some people think tonight’s final presidential debate at Hofstra University may be the opportunity for McCain to do so.

“I think he might just come out and say it at the end – the last debate,” said Pettito, adding that she wishes McCain was hitting Obama harder with his affiliations with Ayers and Wright.

The absence of attacks on Obama’s associations at last Wednesday’s rally upset some supporters who want the campaign and the media to raise more questions about the Democratic nominee’s past. McCain has since brought up Ayers, the first time last Thursday responding to a question at a town hall meeting.

But not everyone voting for McCain wants the campaign to focus on these issues.

Carl Snyder, 19, of Middleburg Heights, serves in the military. He said both the senator and the governor are his heroes and that he understands why Palin attacked Obama. He referenced the attacks on the governor and likened her to someone getting punched in the face before finally defending herself.

Ultimately, though, he said, the candidates need to mainly talk to the people.

“You know, bringing up Ayers – they’re coming here and reaching out to us,” Snyder said about the rally. “And I don’t like it when people complain about others. Just speak the truth, speak what’s on your mind – what you’re going to do for us, basically.”

Snyder was not alone, as other supporters said they were tired of the back-and-forth character assaults of the election.

Kent State graduate Lisa McGreal, 20, of Strongsville, said the tone of the rally was more in line with what she was looking for from the candidate rather than personal attacks.

“I think they attacked him in the right kind of ways,” McGreal said. “I think they were pretty strong about it . I would like to see (campaigns) be different. I would like somebody to really stand up and say, I’m not going to do it. But then I don’t if they could survive in this kind of political climate.”

McGreal’s father, Ken Semelsberger, agreed the McCain campaign shouldn’t engage in those attacks because it implies a certain level of desperation.

“Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, I think, are passé,” he said. “I don’t think the people really are interested in that anymore. Other things have pushed them off the front page – the economy, obviously . I think they were smart in not bringing it up.”

The split between supporters on how the McCain campaign should deal with Obama is almost metaphorical of the campaign itself. McCain is more restrained bringing up the issue of his opponent’s history, but Palin has launched an assault on Obama’s past.

Regardless of what voters want from Palin, Pettito said McCain is ultimately running the show. Though she said she suspects voters haven’t heard the last of the issue, Palin cannot overstep her bounds.

Still, there are those such as Kent resident Amanda Hawley who, like Pettito, said she wishes both McCain and Palin would say more regarding the connections. She was one of 1,000 to 2,000 people who couldn’t get into the event; however, the ticket addressed the crowd before boarding the bus.

“I think they should keep doing it,” Hawley said. “I don’t think they’ve done it enough, really. That’s part of the reason I’m not voting for Obama. I don’t trust him at all. I think he has bad associations, and that we don’t know anything about him . I wish (McCain) would’ve said a little bit more about it at the (second) debate.”

Contact public affairs reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected].