With members of his family joining him on stage, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain opened his speech at the MSU-Riley Center Monday by talking about a popular subject: hometown roots.

McCain — once a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Meridian, where the airfield is named after his grandfather, Admiral John Sidney McCain, Sr. — touted his roots to Mississippi, particularly his Meridian ties.

"It's always wonderful to be back in Mississippi," he said, "which I guess you could call my ancestral home."

McCain gave a lengthy history of his family, noting that he "had no permanent address" growing up in a military family. He said childhood stays with an uncle in Carroll County had caused him to enviously envision his ancestors in Mississippi, who he imagined to have been "part of a community and a landscape as well as a family."

His visit to Meridian kicked off a biographical campaign tour, called "Service to America" by his campaign, in which he will visit various cities that were once part of his military life, traveling to Virginia, Maryland, Florida, and Arizona.

In his speech Monday morning, McCain spoke very nostalgically and for quite some time about his parents and grandparents, especially his father and grandfather, who were both admirals. He then transitioned into government's role in parenting.

"I am a father in a time when parents worry that threats to their children's well-being are proliferating and undermining the values they have worked to impart to them," McCain said. "That's not to say that government should dictate to parents how to raise their children or assume from parents any part of that most personal and important responsibility. No government is capable of caring for children as attentively and wisely as a mother and father who love them."

He said "tax policy must not rob parents of the means to care for their children," and that "government can't just throw money at public education while reinforcing the failures of many schools, but should, through choice and competition, by rewarding good teachers and hold bad teachers accountable, help parents prepare their children for the challenges of the global economy."

During McCain's campaign stop in Mississippi, the Mississippi Democratic party held rallies in Jackson and Meridian, including one across the street from the MSU Riley Center in downtown Meridian in protest of McCain's candidacy. They were dubbed as "Rally against a third Bush term."

Few turned out in Meridian for the Democratic rally. Party spokesman Terry Cassreino blamed the low turn-out the weather of overcast skies and occasional light rain. But, he said, there was a large turn-out for a news conference in Jackson Sunday, which Cassreino said was held across the street from a McCain fund-raiser, and at which he said around 50 elected officials, Democratic candidates for congress, Clinton and Obama representatives and Democratic party officials were present.

In Meridian, McCain received a positive response from the 600 hundred plus in attendance, drawing copious applause.

"I found it very interesting and compelling," said Lamar McDonald of Meridian. "I think the event went well. It brought a lot of positive publicity to Meridian."

In his speech, McCain tied the parenting theme in with the recession and the welfare and unemployment insurance programs, calling those programs "antiquated" in their current state.

"The mother or father who has lost hope along with their job can unintentionally impart that hopelessness to their children," he said. "A welfare check can't give a parent a sense of purpose."

McCain concluded his speech by talking of the lessons he'd learned from his family, including the "sense of purpose" that he spoke of earlier.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, Rep. Chip Pickering, local officials, and members of the Mississippi Legislature, attended McCain's speech.

After leaving the MSU Riley Center, McCain visited Hope Village for Children in Meridian, a home for abused and neglected children. He spoke with the board of directors and key staff and took a tour of the facility, according to Hope Village staff.

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