By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
CONCORD, N.H. -- In his final push for a primary victory, Senator John McCain arrived here this afternoon and made a pitch that might have surprised voters: He cast himself as the environmentalist of the presidential campaign.
"I will clean up the planet," McCain said. "I will make global warming a priority."
McCain often says that he wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil and that he wants to increase the use of nuclear power. His usual line is that these efforts also will help reduce global warming. But yesterday, appearing before a crowd of several hundred in this relatively liberal city, he focused solely on the environmental argument. He didn't mention nuclear power. He was appealing directly to the state's sizable environmental community, which includes many independent voters who are taking one last, close look at McCain. The widespread perception is that McCain is battling for the independent vote most strongly with Democrat Barack Obama.
Forty-five percent of the state's voters are registered as undeclared, or independent, making them the biggest bloc of voters. McCain won overwhelmingly among independents in 2000 and more narrowly among Republicans. This year, McCain is once again battling for the votes of both groups.
The environment is a major issue in New Hampshire, a state that attracts new residents not just for its low taxes but also its high mountains. When former President George H. W. Bush ran for president here in 1988, he said he would be an environmental president and he vowed to battle acid rain. The pitch helped him prevail here -- and he did, in fact, win passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act.
McCain, who is far better known for his credential on issues such as campaign finance and national security, said that he learned during his 2000 campaign here that "young people care about climate change."
Speaking outside the statehouse, McCain was cheered by a group of sign-wielding environmentalists. McCain cheered them back: "Way to go, global warming folks!" A hoarse-sounding McCain told the crowd: "I want to assure you I will make this planet clean ... we will hand to you a cleaner planet than the one you were living in before I became president of the United States, I promise you that."
Moments later, as if on cue, a chunk of melting snow from the statehouse roof landed near McCain. Momentarily surprised, McCain assured the crowd he was OK.
"It's just snow, thank you," McCain said. "That's that climate change there."
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