CONWAY, N.H. – Frustration over illegal immigration followed Sen. John McCain on Sunday as he finished up a three-day campaign trip to eastern New Hampshire.
At a VFW hall in Conway, a woman who had questioned McCain the night before in Wolfeboro confronted him again, pushing him to support making English the nation's official language.
"I'm terribly concerned there's real danger we're going to lose our country from within," said the woman, who refused to give her name. "Even if we make English the national language, what difference does it make if you can vote (in Spanish), if where everywhere you go, the hospitals are obliged to provide interpreters? We need one language."
McCain said he believes more must be done to require immigrants to learn English, but matched her suspicions with some of his trademark straight talk.
"I'd also like to tell you that in my state of Arizona, we like the Hispanic heritage. We like the food. We like the music. We like to have Hispanic influence on our state and we are enriched by it," he said, reminding her that similar fears greeted waves of Irish, Polish and other immigrants in generations past. "I understand your concern that our traditions and our culture and background are being overwhelmed by another culture, but I believe we're stronger than that."
McCain's campaign has been in decline in part because of his unpopular support for the sweeping immigration reform package that failed in Congress earlier this year. Over the last few days, McCain has emphasized that he still believes in that plan --which would have created a temporary worker program and have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to eventually apply for legal status -- but realizes now that none of that can happen unless the borders are secured first.
"Let me make it very clear: I have not changed my position," he said at a house party in Milton. "I still want a temporary worker program. I still think we shouldn't have 12 million people ... that we don't know who they are or what they're doing. But I understand that people want our border secured."
Dave Walker of Rochester agreed, telling the Arizona senator he doesn't want to hear any more about the guest worker program until that happens. Walker said later he supported McCain's 2000 campaign and is 95 percent sure he'll support him again, but the immigration issue is holding him back.
"His support of that bill hurt him, it hurt him badly," he said, adding that he was encouraged to hear McCain proposing having governors in border states certify that their borders are secure.
"There is a genuine, deep concern about the preservation of our culture. They feel it's under assault," McCain told reporters. "It's very obvious that they don't believe that we're securing our borders... I strongly understand, better, that people don't trust us."
In Conway, McCain also faced tough questions on his support for the war in Iraq from an independent voter who accused him of embracing President Bush's views.
"I was shocked, I thought you were a man who was going to stand up to Bush ... and stand your ground," said Robert Donahue of Bedford. "When I saw you embracing Bush, I was very disappointed and it's very difficult for me now to justify my vote for you in 2000."
McCain reacted strongly, reiterating that he has been a vocal critic of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and pushed for the new strategy the Bush administration now is using in Iraq.
"You and I may have a disagreement about the Iraq war, but to say I embraced President Bush's policy in Iraq -- I fought it tooth and nail every chance I had, but I believed we had to win, and I still believe we have to win," he said.
The two went back and forth for several minutes, with McCain answering each of Donahue's concerns. According to the campaign, he later approached McCain and said he would support him.