COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate John McCain had his own German experience Thursday _ at a restaurant in Ohio. He asserted that he was happy to devote his time this week to touring the nation's heartland.
"I'd love to give a speech in Germany. But I'd much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for president," McCain told reporters after a meal of bratwurst with local business leaders at Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in Columbus' German Village neighborhood.
As Barack Obama delivered a high-profile speech in Berlin, McCain said he was focusing his attention this week on economic issues, including soaring food and fuel costs. He has been busy campaigning and raising funds in key battleground states like Ohio.
In what was clearly not a coincidence, McCain spoke with reporters shortly before Obama began his speech at Berlin's Victory Column.
At the same time, the Republican National Committee was running anti-Obama ads in Berlin, Pa., and other namesake villages in Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
McCain is trying hard to get attention during Obama's week abroad. He had planned to visit an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, but rough seas left over from Hurricane Dolly caused him to scrub that trip.
On Thursday evening, he shared a stage at the Ohio State University with fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong at a forum that focused on cancer treatment and prevention.
"Yes, I was in a battle. Not a war; I was in a battle with melanoma. And I know how tough that battle can be," McCain said. He is a three-time survivor of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Both McCain and Obama were invited to the non-partisan event.
"My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe," McCain said. He said Obama would soon see a scene familiar to seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong. "A throng of adoring fans awaits Sen. Obama in Paris," said McCain.
"And that's just the American press," McCain added to laughter. The jest underscored the difficulty McCain has been having in competing for media attention.
On Friday, McCain will meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, in Aspen, Colo.
He said he regretted not being able to make the trip on Thursday to the drilling rig off the Louisiana coast, a visit intended to emphasize his support for lifting of the ban on offshore drilling. President Bush earlier this month rescinded an executive order reinforcing the congressional ban, but Congress must act as well for the moratorium on Outer Continental Shelf drilling to be abolished.
"I'm sorry Congress is gridlocked again on offshore drilling," McCain said. "When I'm president, we'll all sit down together and work this out."
On Europe, where Obama has been meeting with leaders, McCain said cultivating good relations with a new generation of European leaders was important. "A lot of these leaders are a lot more pro-American than their predecessors were," he said.
The Arizona senator defended his assertions that Obama was more interested in winning a campaign than winning the war in Iraq. Democrats have suggested McCain went overboard, implying that the Illinois Democrat would put the nation's children at jeopardy for political reasons.
"All of us care about our children," McCain said. "I stand by my comments."
McCain has complained that Obama's support for a fixed timetable to withdraw troops ignores recent progress made under President Bush's troop buildup.
"It's clear Sen. Obama doesn't understand what's at stake here. It's pretty obvious he's taken this position to secure the nomination of his party."
Of Friday's meeting with the Dalai Lama in Colorado, McCain called the Tibetan spiritual leader "a transcendent national role-model."
"I have been a great admirer of the Dalai Lama," said McCain, a sharp critic of the Chinese crackdown in the Tibetan region.
Ohio is a key swing state. Recent polls have suggested a close contest between Obama and McCain. President Bush narrowly defeated Democrat John Kerry here in 2004, and some Democrats have suggested that voting irregularities that favored Republicans helped swing the election Bush's way.
German Village is in the 15th congressional district, held by Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce. It encompasses most of the city of Columbus and its southern and western suburbs. Pryce won in the last congressional election by a narrow margin.
Before settling down to lunch, McCain bounded through the crowded restaurant shaking hands and posing for photographs with lunchtime patrons.
He was overheard remarking on the "great sausages here." The restaurant's specialties are "Bahama Mama" bratwurst and cream puffs.
"Can we have a couple of cream puffs to go, too?" he asked.