BILLINGS – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Wednesday that his Republican rival, John McCain, deserves gratitude but not votes for his years of military service.
Appearing before a largely partisan crowd of several hundred veterans and their families, Obama said that McCain, since leaving the military and joining the U.S. Senate, has not done enough for veterans.
“We have a choice in this election,” Obama said. “Do we have a president that gets that people are struggling every day, who gets that veterans are struggling every day? Or do we have someone who wants to give more tax breaks to big corporations including Exxon Mobil?”
If elected, the Illinois senator has pledged to get more funding for veterans health programs, improve mental health treatment for soldiers returning home and end the war in Iraq.
By reaching out to the nation’s 25 million veterans, the Obama campaign is hoping to make inroads with a constituency that has traditionally leaned Republican. Montana has the second highest concentration of veterans in the country — 16 percent of its voting-age population.
McCain is a former Navy pilot who served two decades in the military, including more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down during a bombing mission.
McCain’s past was not enough to sway Army veteran Morris Hall, an Obama supporter.
“I admire McCain. I admire his sacrifice. But I think he’s lost sight,” said Hall, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1999 after 34 years in the military. “But he’s so indoctrinated with the Bush doctrine he’s lost sight of where he came from.”
Hall added that Obama shows leadership reminiscent of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — leadership that Hall said is crucial given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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