Vietnam POW Woos Voters, Undecided Still Up For Grabs

Capt. Rod Knutson, who met John McCain as a fellow POW at the Hanoi Hilton, spoke to bikers and other McCain supporters at McCain's Philadelphia headquarters.  Knutson said that during his time as a POW, McCain demonstrated his commitment to America.  This commitment, he believes, makes him the best candidate to be president.

Capt. Rod Knutson, who met John McCain as a fellow POW at the Hanoi Hilton, spoke to bikers and other McCain supporters at McCain's Philadelphia headquarters. Knutson said that during his time as a POW, McCain demonstrated his commitment to America. This commitment, Knutson believes, makes McCain the best candidate to be president.

PHILADELPHIA, PA, 12:05 a.m. – I started Sunday nice and early. The sky was completely clear and blue and the sun provided warmth on a crisp fall day. While the weather was the complete opposite of Saturday’s rain and gloom, the story of Capt. Rod Knutson, a former POW and John McCain’s fellow inmate at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” was not.

Knutson, a 70-year-old who served in the Marine Corps and navy from 1957 to 1994, told his story as a POW at campaign headquarters after participating in a pro-McCain motorcycle caravan that toured Philadelphia yesterday. To a group of about three dozen bikers and other McCain supporters, Knutson described how his plane he was shot down near Hanoi on Oct. 17, 1965.  After he was captured by the North Vietnamese, he was tortured and imprisoned, languishing for seven and a half years. At the Hanoi Hilton, he spent time in a cell adjacent to John McCain’s. They became friends and communicated by tapping through the wall. They were both released on Feb. 12, 1973.

“Because I know (McCain) personally that way,” Knutson told me earlier in the day, “I know that as a person, he will be a good president for this country.” Speaking at campaign headquarters Sunday afternoon, Knutson said that as a POW, McCain demonstrated his character and love of country. “I can’t help but think that John McCain feels like I do. I can’t help but think he will do anything to keep this country safe.”

Voters like Cordelia Reyes and Wabi Jain are among the undecided that Knutson and McCain still have a chance to persuade. I met Reyes and Jain at the Reading Terminal Market, a large indoor marketplace full of restaurants and gourmet foods.

While most people at the market indicated they were voting for Obama, Reyes, 32, said she was still waiting to hear how the candidates would reform healthcare. She is skeptical of Obama’s plans to extend healthcare to the uninsured, which she believes is not affordable.

“I want to know exactly when they are going to affect their (healthcare) plans,” said Reyes, a nursing student and registered Republican.

Reyes

Cordelia Reyes, a 32-year-old undecided voter, wants to learn more about how the candidates will address healthcare. As a nursing student, she is skeptical of the affordability of Obama's plans for universal healthcare.

Jain, a 22-year-old independent and financial analyst, said the economy was his biggest concern. To support either candidate, “I would have to hear more specifics about how they would fix the economy,” he said.

If McCain can articulate substantive policies on healthcare and the economy that resonate with Pennsylvania voters as much as his military service inspires, Pennsylvania may well become his key to the White House.

BY RANDALL MAH

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