PHILADELPHIA -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did as he promised Sunday, urging the election of Texas Gov. George W. Bush as president. But McCain wasn't speaking to his usual audience of loyal Republicans, and his endorsement was greeted by laughter, boos and a scattering of only light applause.
The heckling broke out as McCain delivered the main speech at the opening of what has been dubbed the "shadow convention," a five-day gathering of political activists and critics of the two major parties that will run during the Republican National Convention, which begins here Monday. A similar event is planned during the Democratic National Convention, which begins Aug. 14 in Los Angeles.
The two alternative conventions will attempt to embarrass Republicans and Democrats alike by spotlighting issues that organizers say both political parties are ignoring.
One is campaign finance reform, which McCain made the centerpiece of his bitter primary struggle against Bush. That made the Arizona senator a hero to many of the disgruntled activists gathered here, and they greeted him with a standing ovation.
But after that warm reception, McCain was forced to break off in mid-speech as members of the audience of about 950 shouted "Get him off" and "real issues." As the noise of protesters slamming placards against the floor drowned him out, McCain threatened to walk out.
"If you like, I do not need to continue," he said.
The rowdy audience was finally calmed for a while when writer Arianna Huffington, one of the convention organizers, marched onstage and declared, "This is a convention where you can hear everything with respect."
McCain resumed speaking but was still occasionally heckled by some audience members who appeared to espouse a diverse political agenda.
It was McCain's pledge of allegiance to Bush that first stirred signs of discontent at the convention.
In addition to campaign finance reform, organizers of the shadow convention said they hoped to focus attention on two other issues: the growing gap between rich and poor, and what they maintain is a failed war against drugs.
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