PHOENIX Republican presidential candidate John McCain called rival Barack Obama his "very honorable opponent" on Monday as he began a busy week of low-key events while Democrats prepared to nominate Obama.
"This is a tough presidential campaign we're in," McCain said while visiting the Phoenix high school from which is wife, Cindy, graduated. "I have a very honorable opponent. There are stark differences between us."
McCain, who turns 72 on Friday, got a generational boost from Daddy Yankee, a Puerto Rican star of reggaeton, a mix of reggae, rap and Latin music styles. Students at Central High School squealed with delight as Yankee appeared and endorsed McCain.
"I believe in his ideals and his proposals," Yankee said. "He's been a fighter for the Hispanic community. He's been a fighter for the immigration issue."
Later at a fundraiser in Sacramento, Calif., McCain told backers including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that he's seeing good news in the polls.
"We had a very good poll today," said McCain, pointing to a Gallup tracking poll showing the race a virtual dead heat.
Also on Monday, McCain traded jibes with "Tonight" show host Jay Leno, with his age and houses the main target but McCain turned serious to defend his wife's family wealth.
"Could I just mention to you Jay, that in a moment of seriousness, I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, I didn't have a house, I didn't have a kitchen table, I didn't have a table, I didn't have a chair," said McCain, citing his history as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. "I spent those five and half years not because I wanted to get a house when I got back home."
McCain has come under criticism after he confessed he didn't know how many homes he owns with his wife Cindy. The source of the family's wealth is a Phoenix beer distributorship launched by her father.
"I'm very proud of Cindy's father," McCain said. "He's a guy who barely got out of high school, fought in World War II in the Army, came home and made a business and made the American dream."
His father-in-law "made the American dream" with his business success and has a long history of generosity to charities, McCain said.
"We spend our time in a condominium in Washington, a condominium in Phoenix, some time over here in the state of California and then we have a place up in northern Arizona," said McCain, seeking to deflect Democratic criticism that he's out of touch with working families.
"And my friends I'm proud of my record of service to this country, and it has nothing to do with houses," he said.
In Denver, at a Republican National Committee news conference meant to inject McCain into media coverage of the Democratic National Convention, the GOP presented a trio of Hillary Clinton supporters and a former Democratic congressman, each of whom is now supporting McCain.
"He is a true statesman who will always put the country first," said Tim Penney a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota, now an independent. "With Obama, we have words; with McCain, we have deeds. With Obama, we have rhetoric; with McCain, we have a record."
"During the primary, I was a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton," said Debra Bartoshevich, who was stripped of her delegate status after announcing she would vote for McCain in November. "Sen. Obama is not ready to lead this nation."
Bartoshevich said she's talked to other Clinton delegates who will support McCain in the fall but who are not ready to go public in order to avoid being stripped of their delegate status as well.