ASPEN Republican presidential hopeful John McCain shrugged off reports that his campaign is suffering both financially and in polls, claiming - during a stop Wednesday in Aspen - that he will be "just fine" when the campaign gets more intense.The U.S. senator from Arizona insisted that every campaign experiences difficulties, including Ronald Reagan's winning presidential bid in 1980."We raised the money - we just spent too much money and now have it under control," McCain said.He made changes in his campaign staff earlier this summer to address the finances. Even if the money issues are solved, McCain still trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in many public-opinion polls. McCain once was regarded as a front-runner.McCain told a capacity crowd of a few hundred people in the Greenwald Pavilion at the Aspen Institute that his positions on issues will hit a positive chord with voters in coming months."I know we're going to be fine," he said. "In September and October we're going to have this great debate on Iraq [in the Senate], and people are also going to start paying attention to the race."The nomination will be wrapped up by January because of states scheduling primaries and caucuses earlier than in the past, he predicted. That will put the pressure on him to score early victories in places such as New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.
McCain acknowledged that his positions on two top issues - the war in Iraq and immigration reform - have hurt him thus far in the polls. He didn't clearly explain why he believes voters will suddenly warm to him or accept his positions."I know the immigration reform issue hurt me a lot, and I understand that," McCain said. "And I understand with some independents that my position on the war with Iraq and my belief that we are winning is not accepted by many."But McCain - widely respected as a model of strong will and determination after surviving nearly six years as a prisoner of war during Vietnam - said he cannot and will not compromise his positions.He said the U.S. must keep troops in Iraq and prevail in stabilizing the country despite the unfortunate loss of "blood and treasure" it will bring. He said "the threat of radical Islamic extremism" is the biggest challenge of the 21st century.His definition of victory includes an ideological shift in Iraq and throughout that region, not just victories on battlefields. The U.S. didn't win the Cold War by beating the Soviet Union in a tank battle in Europe, he said.In the same way, the U.S. and its allies must incubate democracy in the Middle East and Persian Gulf countries. McCain initially criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war. "I railed against the strategy," he said.A new strategy and new leadership has led to success, he claimed. Admitting defeat and pulling troops out would only feed the radical Islamic threat.
"It's the region we have to worry about, as well as the situation in Iraq," McCain said. "Setting a date for withdrawal is setting a date for catastrophe and for genocide."On another controversial issue, McCain said he won't back away from his position that a comprehensive approach on immigration reform is necessary."That means securing our borders, but that also means a temporary worker program that works. And we have to address the issue of the 12 million people who are already here illegally," he said.McCain favors a temporary-worker program that allows people from another country to spend perhaps as much as 10 months in the U.S. and two months in their homelands. He favors a complicated procedure for allowing people who are in the country to stay. Critics call it amnesty. McCain said he received death threats for his position."I have never seen an issue that has inflamed the passions of the American people like the issue of immigration reform has, ever, including Iraq," he said.McCain was a prime sponsor of an immigration reform bill that failed earlier this year. He said Congress has lost its credibility with American people. Therefore, the public doubted that the federal government would take steps to secure the border, so the entire bill failed"We were rejected. They said they wanted us to enforce the existing law, so we're going to start enforcing the existing law," McCain said.
The federal government is going to take tougher action on businesses that don't verify a valid Social Security number for workers. McCain agreed with an audience member who claimed that will harm fruit and vegetable farms that depend on migrant workers for harvesting.He said he hopes the country can return to a fact-based discussion that removes passion in the near future.McCain, who spoke as part of the McCloskey Speaker Series at the institute, displayed a lighter side of his personality throughout his presentation. He cracked one-liners and told short, often self-deprecating jokes. Mothers in Arizona no longer tell their children they can grow up to be president after failed bids by native sons Barry Goldwater, Maurice "Mo" Udall, Bruce Babbitt and, in 2000, McCain.He also cracked wise about his state's dry condition: "We have so little water in Arizona that the trees chase the dogs."But he got serious on the environmental issue of global warming. He named it one of three key issues for his presidency. "The fact is climate change is real," he said. "The debate should have been over."McCain hopes his presidential campaign isn't over before he can win over support.Scott Condon's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org