U.S. Sen. John McCain spent a few hours in Vermont on Friday. He was here stumping for U.S. Senate candidate Len Britton at a public rally, to try to help the longshot GOP candidate oust incumbent Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy.
About 250 people — many of them veterans — gathered inside a hanger near the Burlington International Airport. Of those, roughly 100 people paid $125 for a private reception with McCain held before the rally, said Britton campaign spokesman Bradford Boyles.
The public event was held to honor veterans and members of the military. But, it as also clear that McCain was here to get the crowd behind Britton's candidacy.
"There is a lot of anger sweeping the country right now," McCain told a few reporters before the event. "I think that Len Britton's candidacy is one of the sleeper candidates in this election."
Only Republican U.S. House hopeful Paul Beaudry joined the crowd Tuesday afternoon. No other statewide Republican politician, or candidate, was in the room — not Gov. Jim Douglas or Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.
Dubie's campaign said the lite gov was campaigning in Addison County and wouldn't be attending the McCain rally.
McCain said his stop in Vermont was less about unseating Leahy than it was about boosting Britton's chances for victory.
"We need Len in the Senate so we can try to get this country back on track," McCain said. "We need to restore fiscal integrity and balance the budget."
Still, McCain took issue with Leahy's role in helping to push through health care legislation, and bailouts, that have added trillions to the national debt. He also took umbrage at Leahy's opposition to Pres. George W. Bush's plan to add more troops in Iraq, dubbed the "surge."
"I am glad that we didn't wave the white flag of surrender then, and beleive that if we hadn't enacted the surge that things would have turned out a lot different," said McCain.
In his speech, McCain also lambasted Leahy and the Senate Democrats for rampant pork barrel spending and too many earmarks that have helped add to this year's federal deficit of $1.3 trillion.
"These so-called earmarks that senators like to tout — I've seen it. It's corruption, it's wrong and it's a terrible waste of taxpayers' money," said McCain. "If the GOP gets control of Congress, we are going to stop the pork barrel spending."
Ironically, McCain was taken to task on ABC News' Good Morning America for allegedly lobbying a key administration official for federal transportation funding in Arizona.
Britton echoed McCain's call for fiscal frugality in Washington, DC.
"We cannot keep mortgaging our children's future," said Britton, pointing to his own kids who joined him on stage. "If ever we were at a historic moment in our country, it is now."
Britton's campaign has been garnering support from national Republicans after being almost ignored this election cycle. The $12,500 McCain raised will certainliy help. As of October 15, the campaign had $55,000 cash-on-hand, a number bolstered by $44,500 in donations from state and national Republican party PACs.That accounted for the lion's share of the more than $60,000 Britton raised in the last 30 days. To date, he's raised $188,000 in his race to unseat Leahy.
Could more be in the offing?
Britton said he's hopeful that there will be more support from the national Republicans in the final two weeks of the campaign.
It's still a far cry from Leahy's war chest. As of October 14, Leahy had raised a total of $4.3 million and had more than $2.8 million cash-on-hand.
Britton also lags behind Leahy in the polls. In mid-September a Rasmussen telephone survey had Britton down by 30 points behind the senior senator, while a more recent Vermont Public Radio "Vermont Poll" had Leahy's lead at 35 points.
When McCain arrived at the Burlington International Airport, he said a man approached him and said, "Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Sen. John McCain??"
To which McCain said he replied, "Yes."
"Doesn't that make you angry?" asked the individual. Who then walked away.
Vermont may be liberal but it's held a soft spot for McCain. In both 2000 and 2008, McCain easily won the state's GOP primary. That adoration was on display Tuesday afternoon as members of the public vied with the media after McCain's talk to get their picture taken with the veteran, to hand him small jars of maple syrup and to get his autograph.
McCain tried to make a political appearance in 2006 to stump for Republican Martha Rainville, but a rainstorm kept his plane from landing at the Rutland airport.