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McCain calls for revised 401(k) rules, heads to Lakeville

Republican presidential nominee John McCain is paying an afternoon visit to Lakeville, the city that calls itself the “southern gateway to the Twin Cities.”

Earlier, at a morning rally in La Crosse, Wis., Sen. John McCain called for suspending 401(k) rules that require retirees to cash in the stocks from their retirement accounts when they reach 70-and-a-half years old.

“To spare investors from being forced to sell their stocks at just the time when the market is hurting the most, those rules should be suspended,” he said. Here is the text of his prepared remarks there.

And Lakevillians are ready for the town-hall-style meeting at Lakeville South High School (go, Cougars!). The barricades are up, the drama club meeting has been canceled, and Secret Service staff are swarming the halls.

Staff and students have been watching the preparations for McCain’s visit, complete with Secret Service officers swooping in and securing every corner of the sprawling suburban school.

“Oh yeah, they’ve been around all week long,” says social studies teacher Ken Williams. “You can easily pick them out. They’re the boys dressed in suits with cell phones. They’re pretty much the caricature of every Secret Service movie you’ve ever seen.”

“The kids are pretty excited; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” says Williams. “There’s the excitement that somebody … who’s known around the world is coming to tiny Lakeville.”

The city is becoming less tiny by the minute. The upper-middle-class, third-ring suburb of 53,000 doubled in size in the past decade, and is projected to grow another 25,000 by 2020.

Lakeville area solidly Republican
Lakeville is a friendly place for McCain where voting trends are solidly Republican. The venue for the rally, Lakeville South, was chosen from among six locations for more superficial reasons: its good looks (it was built just three years ago) and its easy access from the freeway.

The campaign is expecting anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 supporters to show. In order to attend, ticket holders are being asked to put in a little time in helping the campaign. The McCain-Palin website says, “For each ticket, we are asking volunteers to make 50 calls and sign up for one get-out-the-vote shift during the final days of the campaign.”

After school gets out, several students in Williams’ AP government class will attend the McCain’s town-hall meeting, as will a few from the yearbook and video news staff.

So while it’s billed as a town hall meeting, Williams doubts he’ll see free-flowing exchanges between the audience and candidate.

It’s not clear yet if the students will be able to ask any questions. But, they’ve compiled a list of them — about how to pay for college, benefits for same-sex couples, and how McCain can keep the country running if he follows through with his proposal (if elected president) to freeze all government spending except for the defense budget.

“I prepped my kids. They need to understand that this event is not for Lakeville residents,” says Williams. “It’s designed to hit the 5:30 news shows across the country. It’s a staged event. They’re all like that, whether it’s Obama or McCain. They don’t need surprise questions from the audience.”

Students appear to be slightly pro-Obama
A recent poll taken by the Lakeville South High School paper found students leaning slightly in favor of Obama. But Williams says most of the kids are in the middle.

There is consensus among these students that the Arizona senator’s visit is, indeed, “an awesome opportunity.”

Tiegan Shreve, 17, can’t contain her glee about the McCain’s visit; she’s jumping out of her chair.

“I’m so excited! It’s like the coolest thing ever! I’m like ‘Yes!’ ” exclaims Schreve, as her classmates giggle. “I’ve always been a Republican. My whole family is. And it’s just really exciting to know that I get to actually see a real presidential candidate in my own school! I’m just so excited.”

The class is largely split Republican and Democrat, with a couple of independents and a Libertarian. It’ll be a year or two before any of these kids can vote, but they’re very sharp about politics.

Even though few students are attending the event, student Abbie Barrett, 16, thinks it’s a smart move on McCain’s part to come to Lakeville South. “Because you’re getting the younger generation to be more involved or take an interest,” says Barrett. “The fact he’s coming here will get his name out more than it would otherwise. It’s just like, ‘Hey he’s coming here, it’s kind of a huge deal.’ “

Student Becca Nichols is outwardly a Democrat. She’s wearing an Obama T-shirt (she says her dad gave it to her). The political shirt is a rare site in class and among the student body of 1,800.

“I don’t support McCain,” says Nichols, 17. “But I’m not mad he’s here or anything. I know it’s a good move to be in Lakeville because it’s conservative, and it’s something he has to do to gain support. So I think it doesn’t make sense to protest it, ’cause I’m not crazy. But I’m not, like, ‘Yay, McCain’s here.’ “

They may be in high school, but they’re paying attention.

Williams says the election is the “800-pound gorilla” in his classroom that sometimes stomps on other important topics, like political philosophy, federalism and civil rights. McCain’s visit no doubt adds a few pounds to that gorilla, but that’s just fine, says Williams. “It makes for a really interesting class with lots to talk about.”

Marisa Helms can be reached at mhelms [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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