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McCain launches campaign finance reform town hall tour

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- Taking a page out of his 2000 presidential campaign playbook, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and his Democratic brother-in-arms Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, launched a national campaign Monday to limit the influence of money in politics.

John McCain and Russ Feingold
McCain (R-Arizona), left, and Feingold (D-Wisconsin) told an audience of about 300 that campaign finance reform is necessary to combat questionable contributions  

The town hall meeting this afternoon in Little Rock is the first in a series of events McCain plans to hold around the country to build grassroots support for the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform bill. He has also tentatively planned events in Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon, Colorado and New Hampshire. McCain's goal is to put pressure on potentially undecided senators, many of them fellow Republicans up for re-election.

In Arkansas, McCain's target is Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, who faces a potentially tough re-election next year. Hutchinson has been an occasional ally of McCain's on this issue, but on Friday he announced his opposition to the McCain/Feingold bill because, Hutchinson said, it would restrict free speech.

"If they really want to ban soft money," Hutchinson said, "they've got a friend in Tim Hutchinson. But if their goal is to squelch diverse political voices, then they need not look my way for a vote on what I think is a flawed and unconstitutional bill."

The McCain/Feingold bill would ban the unregulated and unlimited money given to political parties called "soft money." It would also place restrictions on political ads run by independent groups with 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary.

McCain's tactics -- holding town hall meetings in the states of fellow Republicans -- are angering some of his Senate colleagues. Hutchinson, who has accused the Arizona Republican of bullying other senators, predicts McCain's tactics will ultimately backfire, angering his colleagues.

"I learned about the town hall meeting through the, by the press," Hutchinson said. "After the fact, we did get this faxed invitation from Common Cause, but it seems my invitation is contingent upon my endorsing the Mccain/Feingold bill. Since I cannot endorse the McCain Feingold finance reform bill and because the invitation came so late, I cannot attend."

However, a potential political rival will be on the stage with McCain: Rep. Marion Berry, D-Arkansas, who may run against Hutchinson in next year's Senate race.

McCain made campaign finance reform his signature issue during his unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination last year.

The Senate is expected to begin debate on the McCain/Feingold bill in late March.

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