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No stage fright for Hackett

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, talks with reporters on his bus, The Straight Talk Express, after leaving Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday afternoon on his way to the Allentown area.

Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE -- Chris Hackett seemed to be comfortable on stage at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. He even told a joke or two.

Hackett, the Republican candidate for Congress in the 10th District, served as master of ceremonies at Wednesday’s appearance of presumptive Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain.

“Am I the only person who has noticed that Sen. Obama is moving toward the right?” Hackett asked the crowd. “I think we will start inviting him to our fundraisers.”

The crowd of 800 laughed and clapped. They liked Hackett’s shtick. Hackett hopes his act plays as well in the 10th District as he tries to unseat freshman incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Chris Carney in the November general election.

Hackett told the crowd McCain was not a typical politician because he was “on time.” When it became apparent the Arizona senator would miss the scheduled 10 a.m. start time, Hackett returned to center stage and said he failed to mention that McCain was operating on “political time.”

Hackett’s opponent in the primary, Dan Meuser, was in charge of the private fundraiser held at the Westmoreland Club. About 250-plus people paid $250 each for the buffet luncheon.

With Secret Service agents stationed throughout the 1,800-seat Kirby auditorium – including the balcony – Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” began to play. That was followed by The Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man” who, according to the lyrics, “is doing the best things so conservatively.”

John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” was next, and then the predictable “Johnny B. Good” by Chuck Berry.

The Rev. Charles F. Gommer Jr. of Dallas led the group in prayer. Mary Balavage sang the national anthem and Jackie Rhodes sang “God Bless America.”

Two senators took the stage – state Sen. Lisa Baker of Lehman Township walked with McCain to start the town hall meeting. Baker was wearing a cast on her left foot, which she broke while walking her dog earlier this week. Baker offered a rousing introduction of McCain.

“This is the first of what we hope will be many visits to Northeast Pennsylvania by Sen. McCain,” Baker said. “We are choosing a new leader to guide us through some very difficult times.”

Baker said McCain will make tough decisions without fear of political consequences. “He’s a man who means business,” Baker said. “Politics is not his profession; public service very much is.”

At 10:22 a.m., McCain took the microphone. He wore a dark suit, blue shirt and striped tie. His comments ranged from poignant to funny.

The first story he told was of his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Because he was the son of a Navy admiral, McCain said, he could have been released early, ahead of others who were imprisoned longer.

“I chose my country first,” McCain said.

McCain talked about the low approval rating of Congress – now at 9 percent. “That represents paid staffers and blood relatives and not many more,” McCain joked.

He talked about post-Katrina New Orleans and the emergence of many charter schools. He said the quality of education has gone up as a result and suggested the concept is a no-brainer.

“Duh!” McCain said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “Cindy and I sent our kids to Catholic schools and I’m not even Catholic. It was the best place to get an education.”

McCain boasted he has never asked for nor received federal earmarks or pork barrel projects. Hackett commended him. “He has not been a part of that corrupt system,” Hackett said. “He will fight for the people.”

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