RENO, NV - This was the first up close look at the candidate for most in the room. The Arizona senator did not campaign here in the lead up to the Nevada caucus, in fact he finished third in the voting behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. It's easy to forget back then his campaign was only just beginning to recover from a near death experience months earlier.
At that time, conventional wisdom held that his support for an unpopular war was a huge problem for McCain. He lost little time in declaring there had been a change, in the war and his fortunes.
"We've got a new commander and a new strategy and we're winning in Iraq." And looking ahead to the general election, McCain took aim at the man everyone expects him to face. "Why is he willing to meet the president of Iran and not meet General Petraeus, the commander of our troops in Iraq?"
The crowd responded to his promises to support veteran's care, veto bills stuffed with pork barrel spending and changes in No Child Left Behind. But there are potential pitfalls for the Senator in Nevada. The first is his longtime support for Yucca Mountain. It was the first question from the crowd today and the senator, who just yesterday raised the possibility of an international nuclear waste repository, didn't back away from that position saying he still supported the proposed nuclear repository in Nye County, but adding he also supports reproccessing nuclear waste. "A little straight talk," he said, "we've got to do both."
Many in the audience may not have liked that answer, but it was his answer on immigration that drew catcalls.
"We've got to secure the border," he said, "but we also need a temporary worker program." There was a smattering of boos. "My friends, ask the agricultural sector here, We need temporary workers who will come here and fill jobs that are vacant and then go home."
McCain said such a program would include a secure biometric ID to track such temporary workers. "Then we need to deal with the issue of the 12 million who are here illegally."
After spending most of an hour at the neighborhood gymnasium, he senator waded into the crowd before leaving for a fundraiser downtown where he was greeted by anti-war and pro-Ron Paul supporters.