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TWI, Live From Colombia With McCain

CARTAGENA, Colombia — En route to Colombia, aboard Sen. John McCain’s swanky new Straight Talk Express, a 737 with a custom paint job, the Arizona senator offered up a series of what can only be described as very cozy chats with the press corps. In shifts, reporters went up to the front of the plane to chat with McCain, who sat in a plush armchair. His colleagues, Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), sat on a small bench to McCain’s right. On his left sat his wife, Cindy, covered with a yellow fleece blanket.

In the cramped, cordoned-off section of the cabin, reporters strained to hear McCain over the jet engines. This was the first airborne edition of the regular impromptu press conferences that take place aboard the Straight Talk Express bus. It proved a learning experience. For example, as several reporters found, if you place a recorder on the floor of a moving jet, it picks up an extreme amount of background noise, making the recording unusable.

McCain started by discussing the purposes of the trip. He said he planned to focus on free trade and cooperative drug eradication efforts, and he pledged not to criticize Sen. Barack Obama, at least on the ground, during this excursion. He received several questions about retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s recent statements about his military service. The senator became obviously annoyed when one reporter asked him to explain how his service did prepare him for the presidency. McCain later apologized for his initial reaction, saying he doesn’t like to talk about certain aspects of his experience. He said it was up to Obama to repudiate and “cut loose” Clark. McCain then said he did have leadership experience, commanding the largest air squadron in the Navy.

Graham stepped in, pointing out that McCain’s military experience was on display when he opposed the Bush administration in advocating for strict rules for the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

A reporter from the BBC asked McCain if he chose to visit Colombia and Mexico as an effort to court Latino voters. He replied he was “not after votes.”

He also declined to comment on whether he supports Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s calls for new elections.

In future, we will bring you more detailed accounts, now that we know what to expect – and we know the limits of our technology. Stay tuned.

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