PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Sen. John McCain reached out to veterans in New Hampshire on Monday, delivering a scathing critique of President Barack Obama's foreign policy while attempting to portray Republicans as the only party willing to compromise over the contentious issue of defense sequestration cuts.
McCain - the 2008 GOP presidential nominee - visited the Granite State to campaign for Mitt Romney and held town halls at three Veterans of Foreign War posts in the state he got to know well during his previous bids for the White House. A veteran himself, McCain said support from the men and women who served in the military will be vital for Romney to win here.
In each of the town halls, the Arizona Republican gave a harsh rebuttal to the foreign policy decisions made by the current administration. His most passionate argument centered around the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya which took the lives of four Americans, including Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens. U.S. officials such as Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations, characterized the attack as "a spontaneous reaction" to a video mocking the prophet Muhammad.
It's a characterization McCain called "disgraceful."
"This was a well-orchestrated attack. They had indirect fire, direct fire. And somehow there were reports that they knew where our ambassador was. That is not a spontaneous demonstration," McCain told a crowd gathered at the VFW post in Portsmouth. "That is wrong to tell the American people that it was. It's disgraceful to tell the American people that it was a spontaneous demonstration."
McCain was joined for part of the day by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The two have been part of a group of Republicans who have toured the country to warn about the dangers of automatic spending cuts to the defense budget, known as "sequestration." The cuts, which were agreed to by Congress and the White House last year as part of deficit-reduction plan, will take place unless Washington can agree to an alternative way to slash spending.
During a stop in Nashua, McCain called on the president to "invite us to the White House. We'll compromise. We'll prevent a devastating effect on our ability to defend this nation."
Later in the day McCain said Republicans are "willing to put everything on the table for the sake of our national security." But he said the president has been unwilling to negotiate and cited it as an example of Obama's failed leadership.
Much of McCain's energy on Monday was also aimed at defending Romney's foreign policy credentials, which have come under new scrutiny since the GOP nominee criticized the president's handling of attacks on American outposts in the Middle East. The former Massachusetts governor was viewed by some as trying to politicize an event which took U.S. lives. McCain defended Romney's statements, likening his world view to that of former President Ronald Reagan.
"When Ronald Reagan came out of governor of California, he wasn't the most versed in national security issues," McCain told a VFW crowd. "He had been a movie actor and governor of California. But he had the instincts. He spoke up for the oppressed ... Mitt Romney has those same instincts."
But it was not just Romney's foreign policy experience that McCain found himself defending. Throughout the day, he faced questions from conservatives worried about their prospects come November.
One voter asked -- given the country's bleak economic outlook -- why Romney isn’t leading in the polls. Another asked why the former Bain Capital CEO will not be more specific about his plans for the country.
McCain cited the contentious Republican primary where the Romney campaign had to endure an onslaught of negative attacks as part of the reason why the candidate is having such difficulty winning over voters. "I've never seen in modern times such vicious attacks," McCain said. "Bain Capital, allegations that he was quote, lying; even one person said he had committed a crime. There was a saturation. And so, it's regrettable."
When a woman said she worries Republicans will not be able to spread their message far enough to garner electoral success, McCain said, "I do, too."
The concern on display from voters today came in the wake of a Politico article citing in-fighting in the Romney campaign for recent blunders and missed opportunities at the Republican National Convention. It's a narrative McCain knows well; his unsuccessful 2008 run was plagued by similar stories.
"There's always some disagreements amongst campaigns, but you know, political folks need to write a story every day," McCain told NBC News after his Portsmouth town hall. "But look, these things are always there. We saw about dissension in the Obama campaign between Chicago and Washington. There's always those stories. Most Americans are not too concerned about it."