McCain “angry” about pork, including “EarthPork”

GOP presidential candidate John McCain took aim at one of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s pet projects this morning.  During an appearance in Ankeny, McCain ridiculed the $50 million federal grant for the "EarthPark" project:  Critics have used the name "EarthPork" to ridicule the project. 

"Do you think that even the people of Iowa would think that we need an indoor rain forest in Iowa?" McCain asked the crowd, some of whom laughed.  Here’s the Radio Iowa story.  Here’s the audio of McCain’s Q&A with reporters.  Also of note from today’s appearance:  McCain did not tell the joke about having a glass of ethanol every morning with Grassley, a joke that is usually in his repertoire during Iowa campaign appearances.

McCain was half an hour late to the forum which was held in a school in the Des Moines suburb.  As the fellas running the sound system tested things out, they played a few bars of the Journey song that was playing at the end of The Sopranos, as Des Moines Register reporter Tom Witosky pointed out to me (since I didn’t watch the final episode — I’ve only seen the Clinton’s spoof).  I can report there was no smell of wine or cheap perfume in the room.

Former Iowa Senator Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny, the GOP’s unsuccessful challenger of Congressman Leonard Boswell in 2006, was the designated time filler.  He invited Norm Pawlewski, a statehouse lobbyist for the Iowa Christian Alliance (formerly the Iowa Christian Coalition) and Iowa Right to Life Committee, to offer a prayer. Pawlewski prayed for "open minds and open hearts."  Lamberti then asked a veteran in the crowd to lead everyone in saying the Pledge, and the veteran instructed everyone to stand and told the people wearing baseball caps to take ’em off.

As Lamberti was clearing struggling to fill the time, a man in the audience asked Lamberti about bringing the Barnstormers back.  In case you’re unaware, Des Moines used to be home to the Iowa Barnstormers, an Arena Football League team.  Lamberti told the crowd he and others "continue to work on" bringing a franchise back to Des Moines.  At this point, Lamberti wrapped up and went back to his seat.

A few minutes later, he popped back up into the center of the room — set up in a "theater in the round" for the event.  Lamberti introduced former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer and Roemer gave his own McCain testimonial.  It involved a story about a man who carved dogs out of tree stumps.  He sort of glossed over the fact that he used to be a Democrat but converted to the Republican Party. 

Roemer introduced McCain, who walked into the center of the room as the Journey song "Don’t Stop Believing" played.  McCain opened with a few jokes, claiming credit for the rain which washed into central Iowa this morning.  "The only ethnic joke that can be told in politics is an Irish joke," McCain conintued, and proceded to tell a joke I first heard from Kevin Sullivan, the now-retired former chief political reporter at the Cedar Rapids Gazette.  It’s about two brothers, Irish fellows, drinking.  It got a laugh from the crowd.

McCain then launched into issues, lamenting the bridge collapse in Minneapolis and tying it into his ridicule of "earmarks" in the transportation budget bill (read the Radio Iowa story "marked" at the top of this post for the details).  He talked about climate change, about "the most unpleasant subject" of immigration reform, and of the war in Iraq.  There were several veterans among the crowd of over 100 (four of whom asked a question and two of whom served on the same ship as McCain).  McCain closed his opening remarks with this appeal:  "A few old geezers around here remember what it was like the last time we lost a war when we lost the war in Vietnam.  We had a defeated military.  We had riots on our aircraft carriers.  We had rampant drug use.  We had desertions.  We had a broken military and it took Ronald Reagan and about a decade to restore our military…I just want to say to you in closing, we’re going to ask the veterans to come out and support us in this effort.  We’re going to ask ’em to turn out like maybe we’ve never asked ’em before because they’ve been in war and they know what it’s like to win conflicts and they know what it’s like to lose ’em and I don’t think we’re ready to surrender."

He opened the floor to questions.  The most notable exchange follows:

"Speaking from one white head to another white head, I have a feeling that our country has a lot of far-reaching, deep problems in all sorts of sectors and I was just wondering what it is about you that motivates you to be a president?  You’ve served (our country) for so long already and you’re getting pretty old," a grey-haired woman in the audience asked.

The crowd laughed.  McCain did, too.

"It is such a hard job," the woman continued, as McCain said at the same time, "Now you’re starting to sound like one of my kids."

"What is your motivation?" the woman concluded.  A few men in the audience continued laughing.

"I’m sorry I called on you," McCain said.  The audience hooted.

"Look, I work 24/7.  I have great genes.  My mother is 95.  Last year my mother flew to Paris to rent a ar.  They told her she was too old, so she bought one and drove around France," McCain said.  The audience laughed.  A few clapped.  "It’s a true story.  Last August my son at the Naval Academy and I hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim.  Now, I’ve got to tell you in full disclosure that the temperature was about 120.  I was sure I was going to die a couple of times," McCain said. 

The crowd laughed.

"But I wasn’t going to let that kid of mine beat me.  Look, I’m in great shape and great health, but I would also point out to you, look, it’s as you say.  These are challenging times…America has been through other challenging times but they have required leadership and I say to you with sizable ego, I am prepared. I am prepared and I can serve and I can lead this nation through these very difficult challenges…and that’s the only reason why I’m running," McCain concluded.

The crowd applauded.

McCain answered questions for another half an hour, then chatted with folks in the room for about 15 minutes before walking out into the hallway to answer reporters’ questions for about 10 minutes (the mp3 of that exchange is at the top of this post).

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.