Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., share a laugh while speaking to reporters during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008, in Birmingham, Mich. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain told voters on Wednesday he is not challenging Barack Obama's patriotism in criticizing his call to pull out of Iraq, only the judgment of his Democratic rival.
"He's making these decisions not because he doesn't love America, but because he doesn't think it matters whether America wins or loses," McCain said.
During a town-hall meeting in this swing state, McCain repeated his charge that Obama would rather forfeit than win in Iraq just to boost his own political ambitions. Obama has denounced that assertion as an assault on his patriotism.
The contest between the two presidential nominees-in-waiting has grown increasingly caustic over the unpopular war in Iraq and how best to end U.S. involvement there.
McCain challenged Obama's positions on Iraq, including his opposition to the temporary buildup of troops last year. Obama has acknowledged that the so-called "surge" reduced violence in Iraq, but he adds that the surge has failed in its political goal of facilitating a reconciliation among contentious Iraqi factions.
Obama proposes to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months; McCain opposes any timetable for withdraw. Meanwhile, Iraqi leaders have been pressing the U.S. for a timetable.
"He opposed the surge," McCain said. "He said it wouldn't work. He announced his policy toward Iraq the day before he left for the first time in over 900 days to visit Iraq, and then he refuses to acknowledge the surge has succeeded. Remarkable, remarkable."
McCain added: "No rational observer can go to Iraq and see what we are doing for the last years and say the surge hasn't succeeded."
Also Wednesday, McCain started airing a radio ad that repeated his claims that Obama would raise electric bills and would tax life savings. Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan called it "another false, low-road attack."
Never far from McCain are questions about the pending vice presidential picks. Obama is expected to choose his running mate in the coming days, and McCain is considering announcing his as early as next week.
One voter asked, "Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can rally around in the future, or are you going to give us someone that is going to make us want to stay home?"
McCain responded, "I will nominate a person to be vice president, my running mate, who shares my principles, my values and my priorities."