Lake Buena Vista — Trying to turn hurricane-weary Floridians against Sen. John McCain, Democrats on Thursday pounced on his opposition to a national storm insurance fund.
Sen. Barack Obama's campaign accused McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee who views Florida as critical to his campaign, of siding with President Bush on the issue.
State Democrats piled on with a Web site mocking "Hurricane McCain," and in the hyperspeed of today's news, a banner soon appeared on CNN declaring "McCain's Florida vulnerability."
Appearing before Florida newspaper editors at a Walt Disney World hotel, McCain did not address the issue. But his campaign said he opposed it "not because he doesn't have serious concerns about the cost of insurance in Florida, but because it ignores the need for private insurance reforms to broaden markets and protections against the cherry-picking of individual states."
Aides also noted that it was an issue during Florida's GOP primary and McCain still prevailed, helped by an endorsement by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Undeterred, Democrats are trying to stir the issue for two key reasons: The fund is a popular idea among Floridians, who are heading into a hurricane season still bearing the scars of past storms. And it is supported by Crist, a key McCain ally. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also backed the concept, which would provide a safety net for state funds in the event of hurricane, earthquake, drought or other disaster.
Still, Obama's attack on McCain failed to point out that others in the Senate, particularly those from land-locked states, also oppose creating such a fund. Obama has not been a visible leader on the issue, either.
Crist, who attended a McCain fundraiser Thursday evening in Fort Lauderdale, said he was talking with the candidate about a regional fund made up of coastal states. "I think that's progress," he said.
McCain also faced questions Thursday about his commitment to another high-profile Florida concern: the Everglades. In 2007, he opposed a water bill that included $2-billion in cleanup money for the famous River of Grass that is a priority of Crist and other Florida politicians.
But he has consistently voted against massive spending packages — this one was $23-billion — saying they are often packed with "pork," or money for pet projects.
"I do not and will not and have been proud not to have voted for omnibus spending bills in which many cases there is no authorization nor is there hearings or scrutiny," said McCain, who visits the Everglades today. "I am committed to saving the Everglades."
Turning to his signature issue, McCain defended the war in Iraq.
"I can look you in the eye and tell you it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there are a lot of hurdles to overcome," he said, "but we are winning in Iraq now."
Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.