Republican John McCain is feeling a little neglected by his friends in the news media this week. Although the Arizona senator enjoys a good relationship with the press, he is in danger of being upstaged by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's high-profile trip to the Middle East.
But the McCain campaign is fighting back with humor.
At a less-than-full auditorium in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Wednesday morning, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee thanked the crowd for showing up at something as mundane as a town hall meeting.
"Thank you for being here this morning, and I appreciate the fact that you would come out. I know that everybody has something else to do today," he said.
For a lot of news outlets, that "something else" is Obama's overseas trip, which has dominated political coverage in recent days. Pennsylvania student Katie Klein — who found time to attend McCain's event — says that is typical of a left-leaning media bias.
"I mean, obviously, this week with Barack being overseas, he's going to get more attention," she said. "But I think generally, he's going to get more attention anyway."
The McCain campaign poked fun at the news media and its own second billing this week, handing out press credentials to reporters that said "JV Squad — Left Behind to Report in America." McCain's team also produced two Web videos about the media's perceived fixation on the Democratic rival.
There's not exactly a news blackout on McCain, who recorded interviews Wednesday with ABC, Fox News and several local TV stations. But highlighting the Obama coverage allows McCain to cast himself in his preferred role as an underdog, while at the same time shaming the media into doing self-conscious balancing act stories (like this very one).
McCain Focuses On Domestic Issues
Several people at the town hall meeting thanked McCain for taking time to visit this blue collar corner of Pennsylvania. Steelworker Chuck Partington says it's an area that doesn't get a lot of attention.
"He's doing the right thing coming to Pennsylvania," Partington said. "He's just got to make sure he answers the questions that people have here. And it's tough. It's hard living here."
McCain stood in front of a banner that read "Energy Solutions" and talked up his plans for offshore oil drilling and cleaner-burning coal.
"I'm willing to spend $2 billion a year for research and development for clean coal technology," the candidate said. "And by the way, think of how many jobs that would create in the state of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other parts of the country where we have these vast coal reserves."
McCain claimed that President Bush's support for offshore oil drilling contributed to a sharp drop in oil prices. Other observers say it was the economic slowdown that led to the price drop, along with stepped up diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran.
Domestic Vs. International Issues In General Election
Although this week the political spotlight may be trained on the Middle East rather than the battlegrounds here at home, McCain predicted a very different focus on Nov. 4.
"I predict that you will see commentators saying on television, 'We're waiting to see what happens when Pennsylvania comes in,'" he said. "You've seen that movie before."
By that measure, McCain's crowd on Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre may carry more weight than those now cheering Obama on his overseas tour.