McCain in His Comfort Zone, Finance Issues Loom

Sen. John McCain was back in his comfort zone.

The day began with a town hall-style event in front of a crowd of several hundred supporters packed into the Umerley Civic Center in Rocky River, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland.

The Straight Talk Express, his campaign bus and his primary mode of transportation way back in New Hampshire when he was broke and fighting for survival, has been brought back to ferry him between events.

McCain seemed to have put behind him the bruising end to the last week during which he was accused in the nation's premier newspaper of having an "inappropriate relationship" with a female lobbyist. But the unresolved issue of whether the Republican presidential candidate can opt out of public campaign financing still looms over the candidate.

For nearly an hour, a buoyant, high-spirited McCain fielded questions from the audience. At one point he was asked what kind of benchmarks should be the used for judging progress in Iraq. He veered off into a defense of his remark that the United States could be in the Iraq for 100 years. In recent days, the Democrats have been hammering away at McCain for that comment.

"I was asked at a town hall meeting [in New Hampshire in early January] how long would we have a presence in Iraq," McCain said. "My friends, the war will be over soon — although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years. But it'll be handled by the Iraqis not by us."

The "100 years" line has clearly stung McCain. Now he is fighting back, ridiculing the notion that he has been predicting the U.S. military would wage war in Iraq for the next century.

On his bus later, the Arizona senator elaborated as he relaxed, sipping from a can of Coke.

"The United States of America in many conflicts, after the conflict was over, have negotiated security arrangements with the country that was our ally. … After the Korean War, we had an arrangement with the South Korean government to have a military presence. After the first Gulf War, we still have a basic arrangement with Kuwait. We have a basic arrangement with Turkey. We have a basic arrangement with Japan. We have troops in Bosnia. We have troops all over the world," McCain explained.

"Americans will withdraw," he went on. "But Americans may have, as they have with so many other countries, a security arrangement far into the future. Any relation between that and whether we would be in a war for a hundred years is obviously a spurious charge."

It was evident that McCain had moved on from the uproar last week over The New York Times article that cited unnamed former McCain staffers saying they were concerned that he was having a inappropriate relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman.

If anything, it is the Times, not McCain, that ended up under fire and on the defensive, after the article.

The more pressing concern now may be whether McCain can withdraw his application for public campaign financing.

McCain applied for the money months ago when he was low on cash and struggling in the polls.

But with money now pouring into the resurgent campaign, McCain has informed the Federal Election Commission he wants to opt out of the public financing and avoid restrictions on how much money the campaign can spend before the GOP convention in September.

But FEC chairman David Mason, a Republican, replied that McCain may not be allowed to now bypass public financing.

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