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Candidate stakes out his positions

Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader

Above, Sen. John McCain waves as he gets ready to board his bus after a luncheon at the Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre. At right, McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus leaves the Kirby Center. Below right, McCain leaves the Kirby and gives the thumbs-up.

Don Carey/the times leader

S. John Wilkin/The Times Leader

S. John Wilkin/The Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE – John McCain acknowledges he knows few specifics about Northeastern Pennsylvania, but said he is well aware of how important the region is if he is to carry the state.

McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, leaned back in his seat on his bus – the Straight Talk Express – and talked candidly about politics, excessive spending and critical issues.

“The biggest question about Social Security – and you heard the young woman ask me that question earlier – is will it be there,” McCain said. “When I talk to the trustees of the Social Security fund, they say no, it won’t be there. You can’t ask people, like that young woman today, to keep paying into a fund that won’t be there.”

McCain said the issue is complex and says Republicans and Democrats need to sit down together and put everything on the table.

“We have to do what is for the good of America,” McCain said. “Setting up private funds where people can save their own money rather than pay into a fund is one option that needs to be looked at. We have to discuss all options at the negotiating table, but I don’t want to privatize Social Security.”

McCain said he was glad to have the opportunity to meet the people of Northeast Pennsylvania and listen to their concerns. About 800 turned out for the town hall meeting at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. Another 250-plus attended an invitation-only luncheon at the Westmoreland Club.

Asked what his presidency would mean to the region, McCain didn’t hesitate: “Reform, prosperity and peace.

“This state has a vast supply of coal,” he said. “I would invest heavily in that as we look for alternative energy sources.”

McCain said the U.S. needs to reform its system of government.

“We have to keep people’s taxes down,” McCain said. “We have to stop the annual transfer of $700 billion of America’s wealth to foreign countries.”

McCain said he is proud he never asked for or received a federal earmark or pork barrel project. He said the playing field for allocation of federal dollars should be leveled.

“I’m not going to use taxpayers’ dollars to build museums or bridges to nowhere,” McCain said. “Where federal dollars go should not be determined by the seniority of a congressman. We have to make the competition open and fair.”

On Iraq, McCain said the change in strategy there has been successful. He said the Iraqis are now accepting more responsibility for their country.

“If it were up to Sen. Obama, we would have been out last March,” McCain said. “With all due respect to the political pundits out there, that would have been wrong. We can’t set specific dates for withdrawal of our troops.”

McCain said illegal immigration has become a critical issue because of the failure of the federal government to carry out its responsibilities.

“We have to secure our borders first,” McCain said. “And then we have to address the issue of the 12 million people already in this country illegally. We are in this position because of the failure of the government.”

Local reporters and photographers exited the bus after it stopped near the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bear Creek Township. McCain’s next stop was Allentown on Wednesday night. He thanked local reporters for their time, shook their hands and sat back in his seat in anticipation of the next wave of questions.

And, he said he would be back.

MORE COVERAGE INSIDE

• Obama reassures Israel, Page 4A

• Crowd reaction, Page 6A

• Reporter’s notebook, Page 7A

• Fennick comments on visit, Page 7A

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