McCain supporters call for tougher fight

John McCain takes a question
John McCain points to a questioner during friday's town hall meeting.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

At campaign events throughout the week, John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin, stood quietly by as some of their supporters yelled angry statements about Barack Obama -- using terms like 'terrorist,' 'traitor,' and 'liar.' The same anger surfaced at Friday's town hall in Lakeville, but McCain tried to head it off.

Several members of the audience questioned Obama's character. One man said he and his wife were expecting their first child and were scared of an Obama presidency. He brought up Obama's relationship with William Ayres, the founder of the violent Weather Underground group in the 1970s.

John McCain in Lakeville
John McCain ponders a question during friday's town hall in Lakeville, Minn.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

"I don't want to bring a child up in a country where, well, I love this country, we'll bring our child up no matter what, but I'm concerned about someone who cohorts with domestic terrorists such as Ayres and who he will choose for the Supreme Court should those openings become available," the man said. "Could you say how you will go about selecting the next Supreme Court justices?"

McCain said he would pick Supreme Court justices in the model of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

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He then added this about Obama: "I want to be President of the United States, and obviously I do not want Senator Obama to be, but I have to tell you that he's a decent person and person that you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States."

The crowd responded with boos and yells of disagreement.

"Now look, If I didn't think that I wouldn't be one heck of a better President I wouldn't be running ok, and that's the point," McCain said.

McCain shakes hands with supporters
John mcCain shakes hands with supporters as he leaves friday's rally.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

Audience members may be taking their clues from McCain's campaign, which has increased its level of attack in TV ads, speeches and in reporter conference calls.

Palin herself raised questions about Obama's relationship with Ayers earlier this week, saying Obama was quote - "palling around with terrorists." Obama has said, and news reports have concluded, that the two men are not close, although they have served together on the boards of two nonprofit groups in Chicago.

Palin, at a fundraiser in Ohio on Friday, told supporters "it's not negative and it's not mean-spirited" to scrutinize Obama's iffy associations.

But Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania an author of 15 books on politics, says the vitriol has been encouraged by inflammatory words from the stage.

A combat veteran sulutes John McCain
A fellow combat veteran gives a salute to John McCain before asking his question at Friday's town hall meeting
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

"Red-meat rhetoric elicits emotional responses in those already disposed by ads using words such as 'dangerous' 'dishonorable' and 'risky' to believe that the country would be endangered by election of the opposing candidate," she said.

Obama's campaign has repeatedly called on McCain to stop the ads and denounce the angry attacks from his supporters.

Throughout the event, which ran just over an hour, McCain criticized Obama's policies at one point and defended Obama from partisans like Gayle Quinnell of Shakopee. She brought up untrue rumors about Obama's faith. Obama is a Christian.

"I can't trust Obama," Quinnell said. "I have read about him. He's an Arab."

John McCain hugs a supporter in Lakeville
John McCain gives a hug to Marge Roth at Friday's rally. Roth's husband Harold served in the same squadron as McCain.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

"No ma'am," McCain said. "He's a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."

Others want to see McCain challenge Obama more strongly when the two meet in their next debate next Wednesday.

"The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight this next time in your debate," said an attendee. "We want a strong president to lead us for the next four years."

McCain said he was willing to challenge Obama in the debate, but again, tried to calm the rising rhetoric.

"There's a difference between rhetoric and record and you can be respectful and still point out numbers and fundamental facts," McCain said.

McCain is spending a lot of time and money with the hopes of being the first Republican presidential candidate to win Minnesota since 1972. This is the second time he's been in the state since he accepted the Republican nomination last month. He has also reserved more than $2 million in TV time at Twin Cities TV stations since he won the nomination.

Obama's campaign also started running ads in Minnesota last week. His wife, Michelle, will campaign in the Twin Cities and Rochester on Monday.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.