JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - Republican candidate John McCain on Thursday outlined a litany of problems the next U.S. president will inherit from George W. Bush and said Washington needed a new approach to solving them.
McCain made no mention of Bush in a speech as part of a weeklong “Service to America” tour, and aides said he was not trying to distance himself from the president, who remains popular with the Republican base in his final year in office.
But McCain, who has clinched the Republican presidential nomination, did appear to raise some questions about how policy has been handled by both Bush and the U.S. Congress in recent years.
“To keep our nation prosperous, strong and growing we have to rethink, reform and reinvent,” the Arizona senator said.
While McCain looks ahead and past the November election, Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are engaged in a contentious fight over their party’s nomination, with Pennsylvania’s April 22 vote providing the next touchstone in that battle.
Obama, an Illinois senator, scored a public relations victory by reporting he raised more than $40 million in campaign cash in March, double what Clinton raised in the same month.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson played down the Obama announcement, saying, “We knew that he was going to outraise us” and that the New York senator would have the resources she needs to be competitive.
Former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said he would not accept a vice presidential nomination if offered to him. He was the vice presidential running mate to John Kerry in Kerry’s losing 2004 bid.
McCain and Clinton were headed to Memphis, Tennessee, to mark the 40th anniversary on Friday of the assassination in that city of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Sources said NBC attempted to get all three candidates to appear together to talk about King in a nonpolitical way on Friday. McCain agreed to do it. Talks were under way with Clinton’s camp. Obama’s campaign said he had a prior commitment and would not be in Memphis.
PREPARING ‘FAR BETTER’
McCain said the United States should prepare “far better than we have before” across all levels of government to respond quickly to a September 11-style attack.
The Bush White House and Democrats have battled in recent years over how much money to spend on shoring up domestic defenses.
McCain also said the U.S. government should be better able to respond to a natural calamity, in what sounded like a reference to the Bush administration’s heavily criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.
He said that “when Americans confront a catastrophe, either natural or man-made, their government, across jurisdictions, should be organized and ready to deliver bottled drinking water to dehydrated babies and rescue the aged and infirm trapped in a hospital with no electricity.”
While Democrats say electing McCain would represent a “third Bush term,” McCain has made clear he has several differences with Bush on issues like torture and global warming and that he is running on his own record, not that of Bush.
On Iraq, trade and some other issues, his positions are hard to tell apart from those of Bush.
McCain has given a series of speeches this week looking at his own personal history and laying out some of the governing themes he would follow if elected in November.
McCain said the overall mission of U.S. national defense and security must examined.
“To defend ourselves,” he said, in a reference to the threat from Islamic extremists, “we must do everything better and smarter than we did before.”
“We must rethink, renew and rebuild the structure and mission of our military; the capabilities of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies; the purposes of our alliances, the reach and scope of our diplomacy,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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