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ALBUQUERQUE — Diners, cooks and wait staff stood and cheered and an “order up” bell rang out loudly from the kitchen to honor Sen. John McCain as he entered Barelas Coffee House on 4th Street Tuesday morning.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, accompanied by Chairman Allen Weh of the Republican Party of New Mexico, joined several small business owners and minority business leaders for a roundtable discussion. The group included Albuquerque attorney and business owner Jon Barela and New Mexico Hispano Chamber of Commerce President Carlo Lucero.
Following the roundtable talk, McCain got in the “Straight Talk Express” and traveled to Hotel Albuquerque for a 10 a.m. Town Hall. Some 100 protesters yelled peace slogans at the colorful bus and waved signs expressing other concerns.
McCain, 71, told the crowd of some 500 supporters at the town Hall that Los Alamos will play a significant role in energy renewal if he’s elected to the White House, promising to tap scientists to work on finding new energy sources.
“We can use the talent and intellect right here in our national labs to help solve this,” he said.
The presidential candidate spoke to the importance of using nuclear power and said 80 percent of the electricity in France is generated by nuclear power, which is reducing that country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“Nuclear power is safe ... We’ve sailed Navy ships around the world for 60 years on nuclear power and it’s safe.”
McCain praised what he called the “incredible service” LANL has contributed to the nation going back to “the early days.”
“Pure research and development in new technologies is probably more important than ever because of our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “If we can develop a battery that goes 200 miles and then be recharged ... how many Americans would buy it?”
He suggested offering a $1,000-$5,000 tax credit to consumers who purchase that battery and reminded the audience that the first cell phones were enormous and cost $1,000, while today they are small and given away for free.
America’s national laboratories can play a “very key role” in the development of wind, tide, solar and nuclear power, then hand it off to the free enterprise system to run with it, he said.
McCain told the crowd he wants to restore faith and confidence in government. The latest approval rating for congress is 9 percent, he said, adding, “When you’re down that low, you’re down to staffers and blood relatives.”
McCain promised he would be tough on terrorism.
“I won’t bluster and I won’t make idle threats but make no mistake: When I’m commander in chief there will be nowhere for the terrorists to run and no where for the terrorists to hide ... and I promise to find Osama bin Laden.”
He blasted opponent Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on a number of issues.
“I supported the surge in Iraq to reverse the disaster our previous strategy has caused,” he said, adding he risked his own political ambitions at the time. He criticized Obama for his opposition to the surge.
McCain also told the crowd that he knows how to win wars and said if elected president, he would turn around the conflict in Afghanistan with “a comprehensive strategy for victory” that he says is being used on the war in Iraq.
He advocated offshore oil drilling and development of alternative sources of energy, including nuclear power and said Obama is against it.
When an audience member, clearly fed up with the high price of gasoline, suggested publishing a list for consumers detailing “good and bad oil” companies, McCain agreed and said he would lift the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax temporarily to help consumers.
In promising to help family farmers and push for open markets for farm products, McCain criticized a farm bill enacted this year, describing it as “a $300 billion bloated pork barrel-laden bill” and saying it’s grown out of control.
Scholastic Kids press corps member Jacob Schroeder, 9, questioned McCain about when he planned to announce his pick for a vice presidential running mate.
McCain told the boy his vice president would have to share not only his principles and values but also his priorities.
The town hall meeting lasted some 75 minutes and after shaking a few hands along with Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., McCain left the hotel for the airport where he was scheduled to board a plane to St. Louis.