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McCain Battles the Teleprompter
He managed to limit the mechanical hand chops and weirdly timed smiles that can often punctuate his speeches. He delivered his lines with an ease that suggested a momentary peace with his longtime nemesis, the teleprompter. (He relied on a belt-and-suspenders approach, with text scrolling down screens to his left and right, and on a big TV set in front of him.)
But when Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, came to the intended sound bite of his speech — the part about reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil — he hit a slick.
“I have set before the American people an energy plan, the Lex-eegton Project,” Mr. McCain said, drawing a quick breath and correcting himself. “The Lex-ing-ton Proj-ect,” he said slowly. “The Lexington Project,” he repeated. “Remember that name.”
In a town meeting in Cincinnati the next day, Mr. McCain would again slip up on the name of the Massachusetts town, where, he noted, “Americans asserted their independence once before.” He called it “the Lexiggdon Project” and twice tried to fix his error before flipping the name (“Project Lexington”) in subsequent references.
Mr. McCain’s battle of Lexington is part of a struggle he is engaged in every day. A politician who has thrived in the give-and-take settings of campaign buses, late-night TV couches and town meetings, he now is trying to meet the more formal speaking demands of a general election campaign.
By his own admission, Mr. McCain is not a great orator. He is ill-suited to lecterns, which often dwarf his small stature, and he tends to sound as if he is reading his lines, not speaking them. His shortcomings have been accentuated in a two-man race, particularly because the other man — Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee — can often dazzle on stage.
Mr. McCain and his advisers know that Mr. Obama’s ability to excite huge crowds will make for an inevitable podium mismatch for the older, softer-spoken Republican. “We’re going up against a guy who is off the charts,” said Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s longtime Senate chief of staff and campaign adviser.
To better compete, Mr. McCain is undergoing a subtle but marked transition as a political performer, said aides and people who have watched him. As part of a staff shakeup that was announced Tuesday, he brought in a new adviser — Greg Jenkins, a former White House official and Fox News producer — who will oversee the producing and staging of Mr. McCain’s events. Mr. Jenkins is considered an expert at political stagecraft, oversaw many of President Bush’s appearances and served as executive director of the 2004 inaugural committee. . .
.. . . In an interview on his campaign plane, Mr. McCain said “my strongest environment is clearly the impromptu.” He added, “I don’t mean that in a way that denigrates Senator’s Obama’s speechmaking skills.”
He shrugged when asked whether he is improving as a speaker. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said. “It’s coming along.”
“I will continue to make mistakes,” he added.
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