Republican presidential candidate John McCain tried to distance himself from President George W. Bush and his own party, arguing that he has often stood against them and that he can bring change to a deeply-divided country.
Democratic rival Barack Obama has consistently lumped McCain and Bush together, saying that a McCain presidency would offer four more years of unpopular Bush administration policies.
One of McCain's challenges is to separate himself from Bush, a “change” theme that was the focus of his speech at the Republican National Convention last week where he promised to end “partisan rancor” — but never mentioned the incumbent's name.
In an interview that aired Sunday, McCain avoided talking about his 22 years as a Republican senator in Washington, focusing instead on the fact that he has been at odds with many in his own party on a range of issues from strategy in Iraq to special interest spending.
“Obviously, I was very unpopular in some parts of my own party, whether it be on the issue of climate change or against (former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld's strategy and the president's strategy in Iraq, or whether it be on campaign finance reform or a number of other issues that I fought against the 'special interests,'” McCain said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation.”
McCain supported the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq, but was an early critic of the way the invasion was handled, and has since supported the so-called “surge,” calling it a success.
He was an early opponent of Bush tax cuts, but has since reversed his stance. He nearly saw his Republican primary campaign derailed by his support of comprehensive immigration reform, which opponents branded “amnesty” for millions of illegal immigrants. He has since tried to make peace with critics in his party by stressing the need for border security before creating a path to citizenship.
There was no free pass from Obama's campaign.
“Voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time isn't being a maverick, it's being the president's sidekick,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. “The idea that John McCain represents change in Washington is as laughable as his claim that he'll take on the special interests when some of the biggest corporate lobbyists in America are running his campaign.”
Obama himself jumped on McCain's new campaign theme of change, blasting him for choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has been praised as a maverick for taking on corruption in her own party, as his running mate. Palin is a social conservative who opposes abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, and has sparked excitement among evangelical Christians who had been tepid in their support for McCain.
McCain's choice of Palin “tells me that he chose sombody who may be even more aligned with George Bush — or (Vice President) Dick Cheney, or the the politics we've seen over the last eight years — that John McCain himself is,” he said on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday.
Palin, who has been governor of Alaska for less than two years, and whose previous experience was as governor of a town of about 6,500 people has come under fire for lack of experience. She electrified the base at the Republican convention with a sarcastic, slashing speech that took on Obama, but she has not yet sat down for a national interview or appeared at a debate and she has said little about her views on international issues.
Critics have complained that the media has focused too much on the 44-year-old Palin's personal life. Many of those stories came after McCain's campaign announced that Palin's 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. News reports also have questioned her record as a reformer in Alaska.
Separately, Obama said he would delay rescinding Bush's tax cuts on wealthy Americans if he becomes the next president and the economy is in a recession, suggesting such an increase would further hurt the economy.
Nevertheless, Obama has no plans to extend the Bush tax cuts beyond their expiration date, as McCain advocates. Instead, Obama wants to push for his promised tax cuts for the middle class, he told “This Week.”
Obama, McCain and Palin were taking a day off from campaigning on Sunday. Biden was in Montana.