ABC News's Ron Claiborne and Bret Hovell report: Six weeks before the first nominating contest of the 2008 election, Sen. John McCain laid out his rationale for winning a general election contest against Sen. Hillary Clinton in a speech at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire Sunday.
McCain challenged Clinton on her position on Iraq and Iran policy. He implied that Clinton is trying to have it both ways on the conflict in Iraq, and said that her opinions are being shaped by the “fringe” of the Democratic party.
"One the one hand, Senator Clinton says we can't abandon Iraq to al Qaeda and the influence of Iran," McCain said. "On the other, she wants a firm deadline for withdrawal that would do just that. Senator Clinton rejected unconditional talks with Iran, but now says she would negotiate with no conditions."
He also spelled out distinctions between himself and Clinton in other areas, including policy toward Iran, and domestic issues such as spending, tax reform and healthcare.
“These are some of the essential issues this election will decide,” McCain said. “I offer one direction for America. Senator Clinton and her Democratic rivals offer another, a course I believe is absolutely wrong for America and wrong for the world.”
McCain, R-Ariz., promised a respectful debate during a race against the New York Democrat, despite what he characterized as “profound” differences.
“She and I disagree over America’s direction, and it is a serious disagreement,” McCain said. “But I don’t doubt her ability to lead this country where she thinks it should go.”
His remarks in Rindge, New Hampshire, represented a shift for McCain from talking primarily about his experience and readiness for the job to offering an explanation of why he can win.
“I’m the conservative Republican with the best chance of defeating Senator Clinton, or whomever the Democrats nominate, and take on the challenges that confront us,” McCain said.
One senior campaign aide said it was time to start engaging Clinton on specific policy issues and get beyond mocking her and merely invoking her name in to win over conservative audiences.
McCain concluded his remarks with a litany of examples of when he had bucked trends in Washington.
“I didn’t seek public office to go along and get along,” McCain said, rattling off defense contractors, lobbyists, fellow politicians and the media as examples of groups he had angered over the years.
“I might not like the business as usual crowd in Washington, and they might not like me,” McCain said. “But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry.”