'Minnesota Nice': McCain Calls for Calm

The Friday-evening crowd in the Minneapolis suburb of Lakeville was fired up for Sen. John McCain's arrival for a town hall meeting in a hot high school gymnasium.

They largely felt their candidate was getting a bad shake from the national media, and there was a sense throughout the question-and-answer portion of McCain's event that the audience needed to make a point to McCain.

"I'm begging you, Senator, to give them a different choice on Wednesday night," one woman said to McCain, referring to the upcoming presidential debate next Wednesday.

"The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight this next time you debate," a man said. "We want a strong president to lead us for the next four years."

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And a third: "I respectfully tell you that you have to talk a little bit, and bring to the attention of the voters – the press is not going to do it for you – some of the gamey associations, some of the associations that have really marred Obama's life…You gotta do it."

The crowd applauded each entreaty for McCain to get tough on his rival in the presidential race, Sen. Barack Obama.

But in general, McCain avoided taking the bait.

One man told McCain he was scared of an Obama presidency. McCain pushed back.

"First of all, I want to be president of the United States and obviously I do not want Sen. Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States."

Here the audience booed their disagreement.

"Now, I just -- now look," McCain continued, "if I didn't think I wouldn't be one heck of a lot better president I wouldn't be running, OK? And that's the point."

At other times McCain also seemed to soften what have become regular attacks on Obama on the trail.

"The point is, that I will point out [Obama's] record, but I will do it with respect, and I will do it with respect and I want all of you to tell your friends and neighbors the difference between rhetoric and record, but let's do it respectfully," McCain said.

McCain's apparent defense of Obama followed several days of hyped-up crowds at his events, and the events of his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. At one event in Bethlehem, Pa., Wednesday, crowd members could be heard yelling "No-Bama," a regular chant at rallies, but also "He's a radical!" and, in one case, "Off with his head!"

Obama Saturday thanked McCain for the tone of the Town Hall.

"I want to acknowledge that Sen. McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric in his town hall meeting yesterday," Obama told a crowd in Philadelphia, "and I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other."

Some voters Friday remained frustrated by what they perceived as McCain's relative lack of fervor in opposing his opponent.

"I think people are growing a little impatient with that, they want to see him jump, they want to see him fired up like we are when we get passionate about something," said Pilar Liebl, of Lakeville, Minn, who attended the rally.

"I think he needs to be more forceful, and let the people know what we're up against," said Marylyn Steele of Minneapolis.

A senior campaign advisor argued that McCain pulled no punches on policy issues during the event. McCain did talk about Obama's relationship with former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayres, and maintained his criticisms of Obama's tax and health care plans.

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