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McCain Rocks Sturgis

STURGIS, S.D. — We arrived about an hour early Monday night, and waited for Sen. John McCain to arrive here at the Buffalo Chip campground of the 68th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, to participate in a salute to veterans and active duty service members, before a concert by Kid Rock. This had to be about the most bizarre campaign backdrop in recent memory — I have probably never felt more out of place. The press table was roughly 50 feet in front of the stage, dead center. We were surrounded on all sides — not surprisingly — by bikers and bikes. Hundreds of them, mostly Harleys. The evening air was warm and dry as the sun was going down; puffy clouds dotted the sky.

The crowd, more than 45 minutes before McCain was scheduled to take the stage, numbered probably several thousand. It seemed in good spirits, and was curious about us. My colleagues from The Washington Post and The New York Times, seated immediately to my left, received a friendly grilling from a female attendee from Michigan, wearing a red bandanna that read "Sturgis ’89" — an old-schooler. An older gentleman in the crowd held a sign saying, "Show Ur Tits 4 McCain." I can safely say this is one place I never in my life thought I would be — especially not on a presidential campaign stop.

McCain took the stage at sunset with his wife, Cindy, and his daughter, Meghan, and was introduced by South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, to the sound of hundreds of thundering motorcycle engines revving — apparently the traditional Sturgis salute. The presumed GOP nominee thanked the crowd:

"Thank you very much for that unique Sturgis welcome. As you may know, not long ago, a couple hundred thousand of Berliners made a lot of noise for my opponent. I’ll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day!"

He added:

"This is my first time here, but I recognize that sound. It’s the sound of freedom!"

McCain, speaking before an adoring crowd of approximately 20,000 cheering bikers — a large percentage of whom were veterans — was even a bit playful, at the expense of his wife:

"I was looking at the Sturgis schedule, and noticed that you have a beauty pageant, so I encouraged Cindy to compete. [Loud cheers] I told her, with a little luck, she could be the only woman only to serve as both the First Lady and Miss Buffalo Chip!"

As for the substance of his speech, McCain again chastised Congress for going on recess for the month of August. He also pledged that his administration, despite the fact that it would almost certainly lack the constitutional authority to do so, would prevent Congress from taking such vacations.

When I’m president of the United States, I’m not going to let them go on vacation. They’re going to become energy independent and we’re not going to pay $4 a gallon for gas because we’re going to drill offshore, and we’re going to drill now.

McCain, as he often does, mocked Sen. Barack Obama’s energy plan, saying the presumptive Democratic nominee "doesn’t want to drill. He doesn’t want nuclear power. He just wants you to inflate your tires." Of course, McCain promised he would bring U.S. troops home in victory, not defeat, and thanked the vets for their service — a natural crowd-pleaser for this audience.

Overall, the appearance was noteworthy for two reasons. First, a presidential candidate actually campaigned at a major motorcycle rally. Not just a major motorcycle rally…THE motorcycle rally par excellence. The visuals alone were priceless. Second, McCain seemed far more energized on the stump than I have ever seen him. I think he genuinely enjoyed it. Now, if he can only convince independent voters to enlist and start riding Harleys — he’ll be a lock in November.

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