McCain campaigns by speakerphone after travel snafu forces cancellation

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Two television cameras were focused on a small table where microphones and tape recorders were piled like kindling around a speakerphone projecting the disembodied voice of Sen. John McCain.

It was not the best visual an advance man could script, but it was all the McCain campaign could manage yesterday after US Airways frustrated the Republican presidential candidate's plan to headline a fund-raiser at the Marriott City Center, Downtown.

It was the second time in recent weeks that the senator had to cancel a local appearance. Yesterday's event was a rescheduled attempt to stage a fund-raiser first postponed when Mr. McCain was delayed in June because of Senate debate on immigration legislation.

Tom Ridge, the former governor and homeland security secretary, shared pinch-hitting duties with former Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey as about 30 early risers got a helping of politics with their eggs. In their long-distance conversation, Mr. Ridge and Mr. McCain recalled that they had entered Congress together and bonded as being among the few Vietnam War veterans then serving in the chamber.

It might be tempting to take the logistics snafu as a metaphor for a campaign that has lost a whole layer of top media and political strategists after a disheartening fund-raising report for the first half of the year. But Mr. McCain, greeting his supporters by long distance, insisted that there was plenty of life left in a campaign now concentrating on crucial early states including South Carolina and New Hampshire.

"We still have a strong political and financial base," Mr. McCain said.

"I can out-campaign any of these candidates," he insisted.

The senator told the crowd that proposals to impose a withdrawal deadline on U.S. troops in Iraq would be "a recipe for disaster."

Mr. McCain criticized Democratic presidential candidates for embracing the withdrawal deadlines. In a brief interview, conducted by speakerphone later, the senator also criticized a call by Republican Sens. John Warner and Richard Lugar to set a timetable for the United States to redefine its mission in Iraq, reverting to a mission that emphasizes training of Iraqis.

"That's what we were doing under [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and [Army Gen. George] Casey," he said dismissively.

Mr. McCain argued that the administration's surge strategy was yielding results and that it would be shortsighted to pull the rug out from under it now. He noted, however, that he continued to be frustrated with the slow pace of reform measures under Iraq's civilian government.

The difficulties of Mr. McCain's second bid for the White House were highlighted and amplified by disheartening numbers that emerged from the candidate's Federal Election Commission report for the first half of the year.

It revealed that Mr. McCain had raised plenty of money -- nearly $25 million -- but had spent so freely that his cash was nearly exhausted. With that news came a massive reshuffling of his campaign's senior staff and a tactical shift from a national campaign to one focused on a few early states.

Mr. McCain raised $338,433 in Pennsylvania during the first half of the year, third among the declared GOP candidates. He was third in Pittsburgh region receipts as well, with slightly more than $19,000 -- far behind the $143,000 collected locally by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and $100,000 given to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.


Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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