ABC News’s Bret Hovell reports: It was one of his very first lines he delivered, but it seemed to perfectly sum up Senator John McCain’s town hall meeting Thursday night in New York City.
"I think this town hall meeting tonight would have been a little bit more interesting tonight if Senator Obama had accepted my request,” McCain said early on in the evening, referring to McCain’s plan for joint town hall meetings with Obama around the country.
But Obama was not there – his campaign is considering the proposal, but said it was too soon after Obama clinched his party’s nod for them to make it work.
The show went on without him. It was McCain’s second town hall meeting of the day – an earlier one in Nashua, New Hampshire, marked the 103rd such event he has had in that state this election cycle.
In New York, the audience of 200 at Federal Hall was not open to the public, unusual for a campaign that typically prides itself on allowing anyone into the room to question McCain. For this event, the crowd was selected largely by the McCain campaign, which said tickets were given to supporters, “independent groups,” and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to distribute. The campaign would not provide details of how many tickets each got, or what independent groups were invited.
After brief opening remarks, McCain took questions from eight members of the audience, on topics ranging from the skyrocketing price of oil and gas, to how he would work across the aisle with Congress, to how he would appeal to the youth vote.
On two occasions, questioners in the friendly audience made reference to the Arizona Republican’s service in Vietnam. One explained that he did not feel people knew enough about McCain’s five and a half years as a prisoner of war, and asked if he would advertise it more.
“Yes,” McCain said, “but, I don’t consider myself a hero.” He went on to talk about how he had “served in the company of heroes” but did not feel he deserved that title, a typical response from McCain to that type of question.
That answer proved to be the only point of contention in the event, which was broadcast live and exclusively on the Fox News Channel, when several minutes later a supporter took issue with what McCain had said about his time in prison.
“The only thing that I disagree with you on tonight is that I think that many people in the room including myself do believe that you are a hero,” said a questioner to applause.
McCain has said he wants the town hall meetings with Obama to be made up of real undecided voters of all political persuasions, and to have the audience picked by a neutral group.
“Let’s hear from the American people,” McCain said today in Nashua, pitching his town hall idea. “And the American people can examine us, and they can know in full what our positions on the issue is, not grab a sound bite from or a phrase or a couple of words, but know the candidates, that’s what the American people deserve.”