McCain suggests weekly debates in town halls

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The Independent US

John McCain sought to take the upper hand in the race for the White House yesterday by asking Barack Obama to join him in one town hall meeting every week between now and the party conventions at the end of August. The first of the series would take place in a week's time at the historic Federal Hall in New York City.

The surprise invitation came only hours after Mr Obama secured enough delegate numbers to formally declare himself the Democratic standard-bearer for the general election. Before anything else, however, he must tackle the task of appeasing supporters of his vanquished foe, Hillary Clinton. There was no early reaction from the Obama campaign, although it is likely to deem weekly meetings too much.

Mr McCain, who secured his place as the Republican nominee weeks ago, made the suggestion during a town hall event of his own in Louisiana, as well as in a letter addressed to Mr Obama. "What a welcome change it would be were presidential candidates in our time to treat each other and the people they seek to lead with respect and courtesy as they discussed the great issues of the day," Mr McCain wrote, "without the empty soundbites and media-filtered exchanges that dominate our elections."

Mr Obama must move his focus swiftly to the general election. He has two events in Virginia today, which the Democrats hope to wrest from the Republican's election column. And he must respond to Mr McCain, who has shown himself adept at town hall meetings that typically include questions. Hitherto, the only face-to-face meetings foreseen between the nominees were three formal presidential debates. The first of these is set for 26 September in Oxford, Mississippi. For his part, Mr Obama has demonstrated himself to be a skilled combatant in formal debate settings.

Mr McCain is pressing for the Obama camp to agree that the first town hall meeting would take place on 12 June at Federal Hall, the site on Wall Street where President George Washington was sworn into office in 1789. While Mr Obama may not want to reject the plan out of hand, he cannot afford to be seen as being bounced into the series of meetings by Mr McCain.

Mr McCain said that the Democratic President John F Kennedy had made such an agreement with the former senator Barry Goldwater for the 1964 election before Kennedy's assassination.

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