McCain seeks distance from Bush; Democrats focus on Indiana, North Carolina

Republican presidential hopeful says he would never have allowed gov't to respond in the "disgraceful way" it did after Katrina.

mccain good one 224.88ap (photo credit: AP)
mccain good one 224.88ap
(photo credit: AP)
Sen. John McCain sought to distance himself from the Republican administration of President George W. Bush, saying he would never have allowed the government to respond in the "disgraceful way" it did after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, raised $10 million in the 24 hours after winning the Pennsylvania primary, but barely dented rival Barack Obama's apparently unassailable lead in elected delegates. The Clinton funding haul was spectacular, particularly because she had been lagging so far behind Obama's ability to raise cash, mainly from small donors on the Internet. The Democrats next test come May 6 when they face off in Indiana - where the race is close - and North Carolina, which is expected to be an easy and big win for Obama. On the Republican side, McCain, the presumptive nominee, faces the difficult task of maintaining the party's base while at putting space between himself from Bush, whose approval rating is at a record low. In New Orleans, McCain went out of his way to remind voters how badly they were served by the Bush White House after the devastating category 5 hurricane nearly three years ago. "Never again, never again, will a disaster of this nature be handled in the disgraceful way it was handled," McCain repeatedly pledged in the course of his visit to the city fabled for jazz, nightlife and fine food. Drawing a sharp contrast to Bush, McCain said he would have landed his plane "at the nearest Air Force Base and come over personally." Clinton tried to tout her defense expertise in heavily military North Carolina, touring with Ret. Gen. Hugh Shelton, who hails from the state, to outline her plans for strengthening the US armed forces. The former first lady told an audience of several hundred people, including many military families, about her plans to improve life for veterans and said she wanted to bring troops home from Iraq "as responsibly and quickly as we can." "This will not be easy," she said. "There are no quick solutions to the dilemmas we face and the consequences that are likely to flow from whatever actions are taken." Clinton's fundraising bonanza came from a total of 100,000 donors, according to spokesman Mo Elleithee. Clinton was strapped for cash going into Tuesday's Pennsylvania contest against Obama and started making pleas for money as soon as the race was called. She told supporters during her nationally televised victory speech to go to her Web site to send money. She continued making the point the next day in Indianapolis, telling supporters she was being outspent by Obama and that she has to "hustle" to keep up. She urged them to go to the Internet to read about her positions on the issues. Clinton reported having just over $9 million cash on hand at the end of March and $10 million in debt, compared to Obama, who began April with more than four times the amount of money, or $40 million, in the bank. Obama's lead in the national daily Gallup tracking poll narrowed Thursday to 5 percentage points over Clinton at 49 percent to 44 percent. Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, was in Chicago paying calls on union members in his adopted home town, where he said McCain fails to offer "any meaningful change from the policies of George W. Bush." The Democrats' seemingly unending battle to pick a nominee was souring the public, with growing numbers saying this year's presidential campaign was too negative, had lasted too long and had grown dull, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Half of those surveyed say the campaign had become too negative, up from 28 percent who said so in mid-February. The increase has been especially rapid among Democrats - 50 percent say it is too negative, while only 19 percent thought so in February. The Obama-Clinton contest turned especially heated leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, which brought out a record number of voters in the state. She criticized Obama for saying small-town residents who are bitter about their economic hardships cling to guns and religion, while Obama accused her of being too close to special interests. Further, 65 percent said the campaign has gone on too long, up from 57 percent in February. Thirty-five percent think it is too dull, compared to 25 percent two months ago. About four in 10 Republicans find the campaign boring, compared to a quarter of Democrats. The coming vote in North Carolina, meanwhile, has caused an unaccustomed political stir. Not since 1988 has the state had a major voice in choosing a presidential nominee. Back then, it joined several Southern states in voting for Tennessean Al Gore, who was making an unsuccessful run again Michael Dukakis for the Democratic nomination. However, the longer-than-expected race between Clinton and Obama has thrust the state into the national spotlight. More than 165,000 people have registered to vote in the state in the first three months of the year, a nearly threefold increase from the same period in 2004. Election officials expect a record turnout May 6 - about half of the more than 5.7 million registered voters, compared with past turnouts ranging from 16 percent to 31 percent. A new law allows unregistered voters to sign up and vote on the same day through May 3. Both campaigns have launched efforts to turn out those voters, and the polling sites have been flooded since they opened last week. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, more than 74,700 "one-stop" ballots had been cast - about eight times higher than during the 2006 primary, according to the state Board of Elections. An additional 8,400 absentee ballots have been collected, officials said. The North Carolina primary offers 115 national convention delegates, the largest prize among the nine contests remaining. Indiana, with 72 delegates available, also holds its contest May 6. In the overall race for the nomination, Obama leads with 1,723.5 delegates, including superdelegates. Clinton had 1,593.5, according to an Associated Press tally.