Huffpost Politics

McCain challenges Obama on town hall meetings

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BATON ROUGE, La. — John McCain asked Barack Obama to join him in 10 town hall meetings with voters in the coming months, and their campaigns began negotiations to make it happen. McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, made the request Wednesday, the day after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination.

"We need to now sit down and work out a way that we can have these town hall meetings and have a great debate," McCain told reporters in Baton Rouge.

Campaign managers for the two sides later spoke by phone and agreed in spirit to participate in joint town hall appearances, McCain's campaign said.

"They both expressed a commitment to raising the level of dialogue, and they will be in close contact as we work together to make this idea a reality," McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said.

McCain said the more intimate town hall format, a give-and-take between a candidate and the audience, allows real interaction and is more revealing than formal televised debates. He held 101 town hall meetings in New Hampshire before winning the primary there and launching his climb to the GOP nomination.

"I don't think we need any big media-run production, no process question from reporters, no spin rooms," McCain said. "Just two Americans running for office in the greatest nation on earth, responding to the questions of the people whose trust we must earn."

McCain suggested the first town hall be held June 12 in New York and said he would love to fly there on a plane with Obama. He said President Kennedy had made such an agreement with Sen. Barry Goldwater for the 1964 election, though neither was their party's nominee at the time. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.

A McCain adviser first floated the idea last month. At the time, Obama said, "I think that's a great idea."

"Obviously, we would have to think through the logistics on that, but ... if I have the opportunity to debate substantive issues before the voters with John McCain, that's something that I am going to welcome," Obama said in Bend, Ore., in May.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Wednesday that while the idea is appealing, the campaign would recommend a less-structured, lengthier exchange more in line with the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates.

In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, held seven times during Abraham Lincoln's losing Senate campaign against Stephen Douglas in Illinois in 1858, a candidate spoke for an hour, the other for an hour and a half, and the first candidate was allowed a half-hour rebuttal.

The exchange over town halls was civil, but McCain drew sharp criticism on other fronts involving Senate legislation on Hurricane Katrina and divestment from Iran:

_Asked by a reporter why he voted twice against commissions to investigate the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, McCain insisted, "I've supported every investigation," despite his votes to the contrary. Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan questioned whether McCain was unaware of his own voting record or was trying to mislead Louisiana residents.

_Asked why he didn't support an Obama bill forcing U.S. companies to divest from Iran, McCain said he wasn't familiar with the bill. "I don't know if it passed the Senate or had any hearing or anything else," McCain said. Obama's campaign pointed out that McCain's top allies in Congress, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and the chief deputy whip of the House, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, supported it.

Obama, speaking Wednesday to Jewish leaders in Washington, linked McCain to Bush administration policies on the Middle East that he described as disastrous.

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