RINDGE, N.H. – Making people mad is a good thing, presidential hopeful John McCain said Sunday in a speech aimed at playing up the Arizona senator's outsider reputation.
"I didn't seek public office to go along, to get along," McCain said, trying to remind voters of the "maverick" label that helped him defeat then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000. "I went to Washington to get something done for the people who sent me there. And since then, I know I've made some people angry."
McCain said Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has done everything she can to land on the popular side of most issues.
"On the one hand, Senator Clinton says we can't abandon Iraq to Al Qaeda and the influence of Iran. On the other, she wants a firm deadline for withdrawal that would do just that," McCain said. "Senator Clinton rejected unconditional talks with Iran, but now says she would negotiate with no preconditions."
"I'm the conservative Republican with the best chance of defeating Senator Clinton, or whomever the Democrats nominate, and take on the challenges that confront us," the Arizona Republican said. "I'm as committed today as when I first put on the uniform of our country to the cause that has been the work of my life: the interests and ideals of our country."
McCain in recent days has urged a respectful debate with Clinton — who he expects the Democratic party to nominate — and challenged his rivals to stop taking cheap shots at the New York senator. He returned to that theme during his Sunday evening speech.
"She will be a formidable candidate and while our differences are many and profound, I intend this to be a respectful debate," McCain said. "Senator Clinton and I disagree over America's direction, and it is a serious disagreement. But I don't doubt her ability to lead this country where she thinks it should go."
A Clinton spokeswoman said McCain's record should give voters pause.
"Senator McCain is right: Voters have a clear choice between he and Senator Clinton," Kathleen Strand said. "He wants to continue Bush's failed policies, and Hillary Clinton wants to change them. He wants to escalate the war, she will end it; she supports universal health care for every American and he opposes it.
McCain also challenged his Republican rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who have played up their executive experience. McCain said character matters.
"There comes a time when a president can no longer rely on briefing books and PowerPoints, when the experts and advisers have all weighed in, when the sum total of one's life becomes the foundation from which he or she makes the decisions that determine the course of history," McCain said. "No other candidate, no other candidate has my experience or the judgment it informs."
McCain said he would take on special interests, reform the tax code and address entitlement programs that are projected to swell in the coming years. Clinton, he said, would consolidate power in Washington and raise taxes.
McCain ticked through defense contractors he exposed as corrupt, lobbyists whose influence he reduced and reporters he frustrated.
"Yes, I've made a lot of people angry. But I didn't go to Washington to win the Mr. Congeniality award. I went there to serve my country," McCain said. "I might not like the business-as-usual crowd in Washington, and they might not like me. But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry."