Republican presidential candidate John McCain says racism will play virtually no role when voters head to the polls next Tuesday because it will be trumped by the nation's economic problems.
In a transcript of an interview taped for broadcast Wednesday night on CNN's "Larry King Live," McCain said people will vote "for the best of reasons, not the worst of reasons." He said most people will vote based on who they want to lead the country.
Referring to people who might vote against Democrat Barack Obama because he is black, McCain added: "It would be a tiny, tiny, minority. Because people are hurting too much now. I mean, they're worried about staying in their homes, keeping their jobs."
The sharp economic downturn and calamity in the financial industry has become the campaign's dominant issue.
Repudiates suggestion by Limbaugh
McCain also repudiated a suggestion by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh that Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama was because both men are black. Powell is a Republican and served President Bush as secretary of state.
"I reject it," he said of Limbaugh's statement. "Look, there is racism in America. We all know that because we can't stop working against it. But I am totally convinced that 99 and 44 one-hundredths percent of the American people are going to make a decision on who is best to lead this country."
McCain's comments came six days before Election Day. Polls show only small percentages of people saying the race of the candidates will be a factor in their vote, but analysts and political professionals will be watching the results for evidence of any role racial attitudes may play.
In the interview, the Arizona senator also said he was surprised at how controversial his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has become. Though she is a major star among Republicans and conservatives, many Democrats and some independents find her polarizing. And, in many polls, she is disliked by as many or more people as like her.
"You know, I didn't think she would be so controversial," McCain said. "But I got to tell you, every time I'm around her, I'm uplifted. This is a solid, dedicated, reformer. A fine governor."
"Total' confidence in Palin
He said he had "total" confidence in Palin should she have to handle a crisis like an attack on the United States.
"She has the instincts, she shares my world view," McCain said, adding that she understands national security issues. "She understands them very well. And frankly, with a lot of conversations that I've had with her, she's (an) incredibly quick study," he said.
Also in the interview, McCain:
- Acknowledged friction between some of his advisers and Palin's but called it "nonsense" and said his relationship with Palin was fine.
- Said he does not believe Obama is a socialist but that he has been "in the far left of American politics." McCain and Palin have accused Obama of supporting socialistic tax policies that would redistribute the nation's wealth.
- Said he supported the Federal Reserve's half-percent interest rate cut and said the key to spurring the economy will be restoring the housing market.
Not up to the task
Earlier in the day, McCain said the country's economic problems will pass but threats against the nation will not — and he said Obama is not up to the task of protecting the United States.
Returning to the issue of national security, seen as McCain's strongest asset before the financial crisis overwhelmed the campaign, McCain stood with former military officers and national security advisers to ask rhetorically whether Obama had the wisdom and judgment to be commander in chief.
"The question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and the other great threats in the world," McCain said. "He has given no reason to answer in the affirmative."
McCain also warned of the danger to national security from a Democratic takeover of both the White House and Congress. He predicted deep cuts in defense spending and abandonment of America's role in the world if Democrats run the government.
McCain spent Wednesday campaigning for Florida's 27 electoral votes, a key to his ability to muster the 270 needed to win the White House.
He discussed economic issues in meeting with business executives in West Palm Beach. He pledged to protect savings and retirement accounts, and create millions of "high-paying jobs" through tax cuts.