ABOARD THE McCAIN CAMPAIGN PLANE—Republican presidential candidate John McCain says the general election campaign has grown "very contentious" but expressed hope that if elected he could reduce partisan divisions by taking a conciliatory approach to governing.
In an interview with U.S. News on Thursday, McCain said that as president he would meet with all sides to hammer out compromises on major issues that have up to now seemed immune to resolution, such as curtailing government spending, strengthening Social Security, and reforming the healthcare system.
McCain said he is convinced that he could find compromise solutions if he demonstrates a desire to work with everyone involved. "It has to be done in a bipartisan fashion," he noted. He also said he would push to resolve these major issues immediately upon taking office because a new president is at the height of his influence at the start of an administration, and his power wanes as time goes on.
McCain pushed again for a series of town meetings with Democratic rival Barack Obama—and for something more.
He resurrected his idea to travel with Obama around the country on the same plane and make stops for numerous town hall meetings. This would be in addition to the three formal debates that the two candidates have agreed to this fall. McCain noted that former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater suggested a similar cross-country series of debates with President John F. Kennedy in advance of the 1964 election, including traveling together on the same plane. But Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and Lyndon Johnson, his successor, wasn't interested in the idea.
"I know from previous experience," McCain told U.S. News, "you stand on the stage together with your opponent—that softens the campaign, that makes it much more civil."
He called this dynamic "a natural human fact." Besides, he joked, it would save money. "Why not? We're both paying for expensive airplanes" he said, adding that his proposal would enable both sides to "share the costs."
Obama has shown no interest in sharing a plane or the stage in town hall meetings with McCain. The Democratic candidate's aides say such a prolonged series of exchanges would take time away from his getting out among the people on his own and bringing his message directly to voters.
However, McCain allies are more interested than ever in setting up a joint travel and town meeting schedule. They say McCain showed his strength in such informal settings when he outdid Obama in the sequential interviews they did with evangelical pastor Rick Warren in California Saturday.