McCain urges Obama join him in town hall meetings

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana Wed Jun 4, 2008 6:53pm EDT

1 of 2. Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain speaks before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, June 2, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain proposed on Wednesday that Democrat Barack Obama join him in at least 10 face-to-face encounters at town hall meetings this summer.

Obama's campaign reacted positively to the idea, but suggested a few tweaks.

McCain, a veteran Arizona senator, performs better in the "town hall" format of taking questions from an audience, rather than delivering the set-piece speeches at which Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, excels.

McCain, whose invitation came the day after Obama clinched the Democratic Party's nomination for the November presidential election, suggested the first meeting be June 11 or 12 in New York's Federal Hall.

"I think the American people want a new kind of debate," he told reporters in Louisiana about his proposal.

"I think they want ... a real chance to express their hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future, and I think they'd like to hear directly from the candidates. So I hope that Senator Obama will quickly agree."

McCain suggested at least 10 of the meetings, to take place once a week, ending right before the Democratic nominating convention in late August, with locations to be determined by the two sides.

'APPEALING'

The Obama campaign said it was open to the possibility, but called for a slightly different format.

"The idea of joint town halls is appealing and one that would allow a great conversation to take place about the need to change the direction of this country," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement.

"We would recommend a format that is less structured and lengthier than the McCain campaign suggests, one that more closely resembles the historic debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas," he said, referring to famous debates in 1858 before the Civil War.

A McCain spokeswoman said in a statement that the campaign managers for both candidates had talked on Wednesday and agreed "in spirit" to the joint appearances.

McCain insisted to reporters that the town hall format be maintained.

"If there is some way to modify the details of it, then I'll be glad to obviously discuss that. But I want a town hall meeting," he said, noting that he would not have won the New Hampshire primary -- the early nominating contest that saved his candidacy -- had he not conducted so many such events.

McCain also suggested the two candidates fly together to the meetings, joking that that would save energy and money.

"I even suggested we travel to them together on the same plane, probably help out on energy savings," he said to applause from an audience in Baton Rouge.

"I know my campaign would agree to it," he said. McCain's fund-raising trails Obama's by a wide margin.

McCain and Obama have both made fighting global warming and cutting down on foreign oil dependence themes of their White House bids.

(Writing by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; editing by Patricia Zengerle)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/ )

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