BANGOR, Maine - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hasn’t been shy about courting war veterans, a group of voters that historically has aligned strongly with his opponent, Sen. John McCain, a longtime veteran and former prisoner of war.
With a tight race likely for November, both campaigns are actively seeking support from the traditionally reliable voting bloc, even in a state like Maine, which has just four electoral votes.
The McCain and Obama campaigns this week each launched committees in Maine aimed at mobilizing veterans from World War II to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
McCain’ s campaign announced its committee, Maine Veterans for McCain, through a press release issued Monday. The Obama for America campaign responded by holding an event Wednesday afternoon at Davenport Park in Bangor to announce its equivalent, Maine Veterans for Change.
Adam Cote, who served in the Army Reserves in Bosnia and with the Maine Army National Guard in Iraq, will lead the Democratic veterans committee.
“It’ s important that our next president is going to be someone who will take care of veterans, and for me the answer is clear,” Cote said Wednesday. The one-time Republican was one of six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Maine’ s 1st District House seat and finished a surprising second to eventual nominee Chellie Pingree.
George E.R. “Gus” Kinnear, a retired U.S. Navy admiral from York, will lead Maine Veterans for McCain, a group that includes a chairman for all 16 counties.
“John McCain puts his country first, which is why so many veterans from across Maine and the nation support him,” Kinnear said in a statement. “Unlike his opponent, McCain understands the needs of our troops abroad and our veterans at home.”
Although the economy has supplanted the Iraq war as the top concern for many voters, the war and veterans issues are still on people’ s minds, and it’ s an area where the differences between Obama and McCain are stark.
Kinnear, like many McCain supporters, touted the Arizona senator’ s long military service as crucial to understanding veterans issues.
“Whether it is supporting funding for body armor to protect those on the front lines or fighting to ensure that our veterans received their hard-earned benefits quickly and in full, McCain stands head and shoulders above Barack Obama,” Kinnear said.
Steve Robinson, former director of the National Gulf War Resource Center in Washington, D.C., and a Gulf War veteran, also spoke at the Bangor event on behalf of the Illinois senator. He said simply that being a veteran isn’ t enough.
“We need action,” he said. “Look at their voting records. Every issue I’ ve taken [to Obama] on veterans affairs has been addressed. He’ s made it a priority as a senator, and I believe he’ d continue to as president.”