McCain’s speech drew both cheers and jeers from the crowd of more than 600. Many seemed to agree with his stance on the economy and national security, but tensions rose as he spoke of nuclear energy.
A traditionally strong supporter of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, McCain took a step back from this support before his Sparks appearance. In comments made at the University of Denver on Tuesday, McCain advocated the formation of an international nuclear repository, which would make the Yucca Mountain project obsolete. However, his comments at the town hall meeting still rang with his support of the Yucca project.
“I support Yucca Mountain once it goes through all the processes it needs to go through,” McCain said. “I also support reprocessing. We need to do both.”
McCain supports nuclear technology as an alternative energy source that should be cultivated. He backed the production and exploration of alternative energy sources through not only nuclear power, but also solar and hybrid energy.
His comments also lauded alternative energy as a solution to the United States' dependence on foreign oil
“I just don’t agree on ANWAR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge),” McCain said of oil exploration in the arctic region. “There is never going to be enough. We need to focus on alternative energy.”
He said that he would be a strong supporter of solar energy cultivation in Nevada. He also encouraged Americans to be more like the French in their energy policy, citing a statistic that 80 percent of French electricity is generated by nuclear power.
On Middle East policy, McCain drew sharp distinctions between himself and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
“If we set a date for withdrawal (from Iraq) there will be chaos,” McCain said, referring to Obama’s policy on troop withdrawal. “There will be an increased Iranian presence, there will be genocide and we will have to go back and give more blood and more treasure.”
The Republican senator challenged Obama’s record with Iraq, stating that the Democratic candidate has never taken full advantage of opportunities to meet with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. troops in Iraq.
“We have got to show him the facts on the ground,” McCain said.
McCain faulted Obama for visiting Iraq only once and for not visiting the country after the troop surge early last year.
McCain also drew distinctions between his policy on education and that of Sen. Obama, stating that he appreciated the foundation that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation had set.
“No Child Left Behind is a good beginning,” McCain said. “I think we can fix it.”
McCain’s comments on education also touted his belief in “choice and competition,” encouraging an increase in charter schools and rewards for outstanding teachers.
McCain did not comment on policies put forth by the other Democratic presidential candidate, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Throughout his talk, McCain focused largely on government spending issues.
“The Republican party lost in 2006 because our base became dispirited,” McCain said. “And because of that we allowed spending to get out of control.”
The Republican presidential frontrunner mentioned several recent bills, stating that they would have received a veto had the decision been up to him. The list included the Farm Bill, which provides $307 billion in government subsidies to farmers over the next five years. The bill was vetoed by President Bush but pushed through by the Senate.
“Republicans have to stop joining with big spending Democrats,” McCain said.
McCain’s comments reached the ears of more than 600 audience members who almost filled the auditorium at the Boys and Girls Club.
Reed High School senior Jenna Gruppo said she was excited to hear McCain speak because she is a staunch Republican. But she was also interested in his presentation because she was not a grassroots McCain supporter and wanted to know more about what he believed.
“I want clearer answers on what he stands for,” Gruppo said. “And this is an opportunity for me to hear it from him.”