ABC News' Bret Hovell reports: With just over five days to go before the country votes, John McCain attempted to turn the storyline of the campaign to national security in a speech this afternoon in Tampa, Fla.
It was the harshest criticism of Barack Obama’s readiness for the office of president that McCain has leveled in the campaign.
“Barack Obama has displayed some impressive qualities,” McCain said of his rival for the White House. “But the question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other grave threats in the world. And he has given you no reason to answer in the affirmative.”
McCain’s acknowledged that much of the country has been distracted by the economy. His argument for refocusing the debate on national security was that the economic crisis the country is undergoing will pass, but the national security challenges will still be there.
“We're going to pull through these hard times -- and do it together, just as our country has done before,” McCain said. “But when that day arrives, and the worries of financial crisis have fallen away, we will find awaiting our country all of the same great challenges and dangers that were there all along. They mattered before the economic turmoil of the present. They will matter still when it has passed. And in a time of war, at a moment of danger for our country and the world, let it not be said of us that we lost sight of these challenges.”
His clear implication: when the economic mess is settled, will you still want Barack Obama to be president?
McCain cited the possibility of terrorist attacks in making his case for his candidacy over Obama’s.
“With terrorists still plotting new strikes across the world, millions of innocent lives are still at stake, including American lives,” McCain said. “Our enemies' violent ambitions must still be prevented -- by American vigilance, by diplomacy and cooperation with our partners, and by force of arms as a last resort.”
McCain cited the Joe Biden comments, in which the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic side said that Obama would be tested as president, and pointed to Obama’s desire to negotiate with counties with which the United States has tense relations.
“In each case, Senator Obama presents his plan for direct talks as if no one before had ever considered that,” McCain said. “He seems unaware that more talk has been tried many times to no avail and that our adversaries recognize such gestures as a sign of weakness.
He cited Congressman Barney Frank’s statement last week that he hoped to cut defense spending under the next administration.
“We're getting only a glimpse of what one-party rule would look like under Obama, Pelosi, and Reid,” McCain said. “Apparently it starts with lowering our defenses and raising our taxes.”
The Obama campaign responded with a statement e-mailed to reporters.
“As usual, John McCain made his stale case for continuing the Bush-Cheney-McCain foreign policy that has completely failed to defeat Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, while Barack Obama will turn the page to restore our security and standing in the world,” said Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, on behalf of the Obama campaign.
McCain was flanked by a number of what the campaign described as his national security advisors, including Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, Governor Tom Ridge. McCain had met with a group of them before making his statement, in a national security roundtable. Lawrence Eagleburger and Jim Baker dialed into that meeting but were not there.
During his remarks, McCain cited as one of his advisors Dr. Henry Kissinger, and mentioned that Kissinger was one of the people who helped negotiate his own release from prison. McCain has dramatically increased the use of his personal biography on the stump in recent weeks.