McCain makes stop in Meridian

Published 12:30 am Monday, March 31, 2008

MERIDIAN (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful John McCain returned to his aviator roots Sunday when he attended an airshow in Meridian, witnessed by 55,000 people.

His appearance was a day ahead of his ‘‘Service to America’’ tour kickoff. McCain, R-Arizona, joined by his wife Cindy, attended the ‘‘Wings over Meridian’’ airshow at Naval Air Station Meridian’s McCain Field. The field is named for his grandfather, an admiral, and is where McCain served as a Navy flight instructor.

McCain declined to talk politics on Sunday.

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‘‘I’m just here to see the airshow, so it’s hard for me to get political,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a great experience for me to be back.’’

Dozens of airshow fans leaned over plastic gates to shake his hand and he signed baseball hats.

He said that the reason the base had survived past base closings is it produces ‘‘one of the most quality products in the world and the Meridian community is incredibly supportive of the Navy and the training group.’’

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering R-Miss. greeted McCain when he arrived. Wicker said that McCain understands that national security is the number one threat. Wicker, who will also be on the ballot in November, said McCain knows what it’s like ‘‘to lose freedom and be subject to harsh treatment by the enemy.’’

McCain has said that the United States will stay in Iraq as long as it takes. That’s the reason Paul Glosson said McCain has his vote in the general election.

‘‘He’s a Vietnam veteran, I like that,’’ said Glosson, adding that he shares McCain’s belief on Iraq.

‘‘They’re going to follow us home if we don’t do that (stay in Iraq). They’ve already shown us that with 9/11,’’ he said.

McCain is scheduled to speak about his family’s long military history during a speech in Meridian on Monday morning. Hours later, he’s expected in Jackson for a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser dinner at the University Club downtown. He’s also making stops this week in Maryland, where he attended the Naval Academy, Florida and Arizona.

The two Democratic candidates for president, U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, campaigned a few days in the state before Mississippi’s March 11 primary. Obama and McCain won the party primaries.

As McCain discusses his military legacy with Republicans in the state, Democrats plan to rally to show their support for their candidates Clinton and Obama. The Mississippi Democratic Party, in a news release, said the ‘‘Rally Against a Third Bush Term’’ will be held at Smith Park in downtown Jackson on Monday.

‘‘Our Democratic Party candidates offer the best hope for the future of this state and this country,’’ said Wayne Dowdy, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. ‘‘We’re delighted Sen. McCain is beginning his campaign to re-invent himself for the general election in Mississippi because when voters get to know the real John McCain, they’ll realize a vote for him is a vote for a third Bush term.’’