Obama Won’t Commit to Event at Military Base
A coalition of military groups is planning a nationally televised town-hall-style meeting with the presidential candidates near Fort Hood, Tex., the largest active-duty military installation in the country. But so far, only Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, has agreed to attend.
CBS has agreed to broadcast the meeting live from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, Aug. 11. The candidates would face questions directly from an audience of 6,000 people, made up of veterans, service members and military families from the base.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has not agreed to participate.
“Senator Obama strongly supports America’s veterans and military families and has worked hard on their behalf in the Senate,” said Phillip Carter, director of Mr. Obama’s veterans effort and an Iraq war veteran. “While we unfortunately had a previously scheduled commitment on the date proposed, Senator Obama looks forward to continuing the dialogue he’s been having throughout the country with veterans on how we can better serve our men and women in uniform as they serve us.”
Carissa Picard, managing director of the Fort Hood Presidential Town Hall Consortium, said she had suggested Aug. 11 and asked the campaign to suggest other dates if that was not convenient, but after several conversations she had not been able to work anything out.
“I’m having extreme difficulty getting the Obama campaign to commit to this event, and we do not understand why,” said Ms. Picard, whose husband is deployed in Iraq. “We made it very clear to them that if they would commit to the event, we would work with them on dates.”
The organizers released details about the event in hopes that it would pressure the Obama campaign to agree to the event.
“This was a decision that was made with tremendous difficulty, to publicize it,” Ms. Picard said. “We were at a point where we had no other option. We got the impression that they could talk us to November.”
The meeting would be at the Expo Center in Belton, Tex., about 25 miles from Fort Hood.
A military audience might seem more hospitable to a Republican candidate, particularly one like Mr. McCain, who has made his support for the war in Iraq the heart of his campaign. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a heavy toll on Fort Hood; one of the groups organizing the event estimates that up to 800 of the service people who have died in Iraq have come through the base.
And organizers say many Fort Hood residents — the base serves about 218,000 people, including service members, retirees and military families — have grown tired of the war and agree with Mr. Obama’s declaration that it must end.
Still, Mr. McCain prefers the town-hall-style format. He had proposed a series of 10 similar events with Mr. Obama, and the two campaigns were said to be working out details for a more limited series of meetings.
Organizers say the veterans and military population in the United States, including families, totals about 44 million people.
“McCain and Obama are asking to be the next commander in chief,” Ms. Picard said. “What’s a more compelling audience than this, the people that you have asked to maintain our security? It would be tremendous for the morale of this community.”
Organizers include American Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans for Common Sense and Military Spouse Corporate Career Network.