McCain courts Colorado women’s votes

By Leslie Jorgensen

DENVER — When Republican presidential candidate John McCain strode onto the stage in the Sheraton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, he was greeted by hundreds of screaming, whistling and applauding women.

Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Republican presidential nominee John McCain addresses several hundred women at the town hall.

The enthusiasm rivaled the memory of teenage girls shrieking and swooning over The Beatles singing “She Loves You” on Ed Sullivan’s show in 1964. And as the lyrics go, “with a love like that you know you should be glad.”

And glad McCain was.

“I’m very grateful for your presence and I’m honored by it,” McCain told the more than 750 women who attended the “Women’s Town Hall” meeting on Oct. 2.

Among them were business suit-attired professionals clicking photos with their cell phones, mothers bouncing babies and calming fidgety children, a mom hugging her excited son who has Down syndrome, and several young women sporting Palinesque hairdos and trademark glasses.

The exuberant reception at the Republican presidential candidate’s first “Women’s Town Hall” meeting sharply contrasted with the latest Time Magazine poll. The results showed that his appeal to women voters had fallen 17 points below his Democratic rival Barack Obama.

After McCain named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate in late August, polls indicated the Republican had moved from 10 points to one point behind the Obama-Biden ticket.

Some pundits attributed McCain’s recent slide in voter surveys to Palin’s recent media exposure to the public. Most women at McCain’s town hall meeting debunked that theory, boisterously applauding and whistling each time the Republican mentioned his running mate.

“In case you missed it, Governor Palin is going to have a little debate tonight,” said McCain, making the first of several references to Palin’s debate against Senator Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of her, and the inspiration that she’s provided to young women and men and every American,” said McCain over the raucous standing ovation.

McCain delivered the stump speech, declaring that Obama had voted “94 times to raise taxes” while the Arizona Senator had supported tax cuts. McCain said that Obama sought billions of dollars in “worthless” pork barrel projects while the Republican battled against them. McCain said he initiated and successfully pushed for the surge in Iraq, and Obama had opposed it.

Laced throughout his speech and answers to questions posed by women in the audience was the message that the McCain-Palin team are “mavericks” who aren’t afraid to challenge anyone — even members of the Republican Party — and build coalitions.

The message targeted undecided women voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents — and began before McCain’s arrival.

Aimee Sporer, a former news anchor married to attorney and conservative talk radio host Dan Caplis, revved up the crowd before the meeting.

“Please do not boo me. Please do not throw rotten tomatoes at me. I’m not a Republican. I’m a Democrat,” confessed Sporer. “The Caplis household is united behind John McCain for president.”

One of those undecided voters was Lynn Cribari who was invited to come to attend the McCain event by her friend Autumn Holmes. Did the town hall meeting seal Cribari’s vote for McCain?

“I’m not off the fence. McCain isn’t the reason, it’s Palin,” responded Cribari. “I don’t think she has enough experience and her stance on social issues bothers me greatly. I’m pro-choice.”

A commonly heard complaint was that the town hall meeting was too short to allow more questions.

“I thought he was great but he needed more time and we needed more chairs,” lamented Gay Johnson, a member of the Cherry Creek Republican Women’s Club. Johnson and her friend Tiffany Phillips had arrived too late to get a seat and stood throughout the event.

“I wish there had been more questions and more time,” said Connie Schuler of Evergreen, who wanted to ask McCain how he would curb the tax exemptions and enforce tax laws to ensure everyone pays taxes.

“As many as 42 percent don’t pay taxes. It’s not fair. I raised five children, put them through college, and paid taxes — all on my salary,” Schuler said.

Three generations of the Long family women came to the meeting, and the youngest,

18-year-old Cassie Long asked McCain about his solution to the rising cost of college education.

McCain said he’d like to expand state colleges and universities because they’re less expensive, and make more student loans available. He also said that students should be given “some years of breathing space with no interest on the loan” before it has to be repaid.

“I liked what he said,” responded the Cherry Creek High School senior.

Her mother, Joann Long of Greenwood Village, said she thought McCain understood the dilemma of investing in children’s college educations but seeing the funds diminish because of the volatility of the financial market.

“He said the price is going up for higher education, but the investment return is going down,” said Long. “The availability of student loans

and the time deferment for repayment makes sense.”

The question that elicited the wildest response was from a woman who asked, “When are you going to take the gloves off?”

When the screaming and clapping finally subsided, McCain quipped, “How about Tuesday night?”

McCain said he respects Obama for beating “the remarkable New York Senator Hillary Clinton…” in the Democratic Party presidential primary.

Viewers might count on more restraint than ruckus in the Oct. 7 debate because as McCain said, “Americans want respectful campaigning.”

“… With a love like that you know you should be glad. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…”