LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Republican John McCain was confronted yesterday about why he opposed an Everglades restoration measure that had broad support from Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and GOP Sen. Mel Martinez.
McCain also drew criticism from Democratic rival Barack Obama for opposing another Florida priority, a national hurricane insurance fund.
Both issues are meaningful to Florida, a hotly contested state in presidential races because of its trove of electoral votes. In both cases, McCain sided against Florida officials and with President Bush, while Obama went the other way.
McCain said he could not support the Everglades measure because it was part of a massive, pork-barrel spending bill last year.
But he said he would have supported the measure on its own. He planned a boat tour today of the Everglades, the largest wetlands in North America, and a fragile ecosystem with three dozen threatened or protected species.
"I am committed to saving the Everglades," McCain insisted to a convention of Florida newspaper editors.
The $2 billion restoration plan was backed by Crist and Martinez, key supporters of McCain. Yet McCain sided with Bush, who vetoed the bill that included the Everglades funding along with hundreds of other local water projects, such as dams and beach restoration.
The measure became law in November when the Democrat-controlled Congress overrode Bush's veto.
McCain faced the question at a town-hall-style forum with the editors. He in turn asked the questioner, Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch, if the Everglades restoration bill was part of an "omnibus" spending bill.
"It was," Hirsch said.
"So you just answered your own question," McCain said. "I am committed to the preservation of the Everglades. I do not, and will not, and am proud not to have, voted for omnibus spending bills."
He added: "I do oppose out-of-control spending."
McCain also faced criticism for opposing a national catastrophic insurance fund for hurricane-prone states. Democrats noted that Crist, who gave McCain a critical boost by endorsing him just before the Florida primary, had lobbied Congress for the fund.
Supporters argue it would strengthen insurance markets by spreading risk across the country, and thus help communities recover more quickly from hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said that McCain, "by choosing to stand with George Bush's failed policies, instead of standing with the families of Florida, he can't deliver the change the country needs and deserves."
McCain's spokesman, Tucker Bounds, said yesterday that a government-run fund would ignore the need for reforms of the private insurance market to make sure everyone could get coverage.