By MIKE GLOVER Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa - Republican presidential candidate John McCain didn't mince words today at the Iowa State Fair, telling corn producers he didn't want to subsidize their ethanol but was eager to help market farm products around the world.
"My friends, we will disagree on a specific issue and that's healthy," McCain said as he stood near bales of straw at one of the nation's premiere farming showcases. "I believe in renewable fuels. I don't believe in ethanol subsidies, but I believe in renewable fuels."
McCain has never been shy about speaking against subsidizing ethanol when he is in farm country, though that stand helped to make him unpopular enough in Iowa that he skipped participating in its leadoff presidential caucuses in 2000 and again in 2008.
In a brief speech at the fairgrounds - where he viewed a 1,253-pound boar named Freight Train and looked for pork chop on a stick, a fair delicacy - McCain pledged to negotiate trade deals favorable to farm commodities.
"My mission and my job as president of the United States will be to make sure every market in the world is open to your products," he said.
McCain met with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey during his fairgrounds tour and promoted expanded pork exports as a boon to the nation's leading hog-producing state. He said a free-trade deal with South Korea could boost profits by $10 a hog.
"Agriculture products here in the state of Iowa can feed the world and we're not afraid to compete with anybody," he said.
McCain said his visit gave him a chance to "meet and greet the real America."
"This is the heartland of America, this is what America is all about, this is the people I want to know and meet," he said.
Democrats in the state said McCain's opposition to ethanol subsidies and the $300 billion farm bill would make it difficult for the Republican to win Iowa's seven electoral votes and would hurt him throughout the Midwest. McCain called the bipartisan farm bill "bloated" and an example of the kind of spending measure he would veto as president.
"He voted against ethanol subsidies, he's opposed to the farm bill," Iowa Democratic Chairman Scott Brennan said. "What it proves is he doesn't care about what's important to Iowa."
On energy policy, McCain reiterated his disagreements with Democratic candidate Barack Obama. McCain favors immediately lifting a ban on offshore drilling while Obama opposes more drilling unless it's part of a larger package of energy proposals.
"America is hurting right now. We've got a lot of work to do," McCain said.
The McCain campaign released a new TV ad for battleground states that contends Obama would raise taxes on the middle class as well as families, small businesses and the elderly. It repeats the Republican campaign's assertion that Obama would raise taxes on those making $42,000 a year, a figure linked to allowing the Bush administration's tax cuts to expire on schedule in 2010.
Obama maintains that his budget plan is aimed at raising taxes only on those making more than $200,000 a year individually and $250,000 a year as a couple.
The Obama campaign called the new McCain spot "a lie" and "part of the old, tired politics of a party in Washington that has run out of ideas and run out of steam."
A new radio ad aimed at Spanish-speaking voters repeats many of the same charges in the TV spot and states: "It's not that you're not ready. Barak Obama is not ready yet. Because when it comes to the economy, experience matters, and he just doesn't have it. He says he'll give you change, but that's what he'll leave you with."
Aides to McCain confirmed that the Arizona senator will take a short vacation before the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 25-28. He was to head to his Arizona ranch for three or four days the week before Democrats convene in Denver.