McCain gets taste of freedom at biker convention

August 5, 2008

john-m.jpgSTURGIS, S.D. – Republican presidential candidate John McCain attempted to harness a powerful engine of heartland conservatism on Monday — addressing a giant rally of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the remote town of Sturgis, South Dakota, each year for a week-long festival of rock music, wild, good times and American biker culture.

“I recognize that sound,” McCain said as dozens of bikers revved their engines as he walked on stage in a sustained growl of approval. “It’s the sound of freedom.”

The U.S. economy, energy and foreign policy are key issues in the contest between McCain and rival Barack Obama but the race could turn on competing visions of U.S. values.

With their love of the open road, many bikers see themselves as standard-bearers of American freedom.

An endless procession of bikers, many not wearing helmets, cruised the rural roads around Sturgis on Monday in a blur of chrome and leather.

The bikers form a natural audience for McCain. Many are war veterans who say they see McCain as an embodiment of patriotism and service because he spent years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam war.

Seven bikers carrying big U.S. flags escorted McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus into the Buffalo Chip fields where the festival was held.

But Kip Benbow, who rode his Harley three days from Indiana for the convention, said he supported McCain because he would defend another aspect of his way of life.

“I want the right to protect my house and my property. That’s my freedom and my right to arms. … I don’t want nobody messing with my guns,” said Benbow, who said he had as many as 40 guns at home.

McCain made his pitch to the bikers not on gun rights but on the issue he said was at the core of freedom: honoring the military.

“You are the heartland of America,” he told a crowd of thousands after a searing rendition of the U.S. national anthem played on electric guitar. “You are the heart and soul of America and I am honored to be in your company.

The bikers revved their engines in a deafening roar of approval.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Synder (McCain July 21 in South Portland Maine)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Here’s some real political punch!!!

This election is heating up. I luv the biker theme.

“Bop early and Bop often!”
-Alphonso Carponzo

Bam Bam Obama vs Big Mac McCain

Instant stress relief for politically stressful times!

Posted by Alphonso Carponzo | Report as abusive

My American made Harley not only means FREEDOM to me but it gets over 45MPG and has a high resale value over the rice burners. Harley John

Posted by john dinneny | Report as abusive

Dear John,

Your Harley is about as “American made” as a Toyota Corolla. Everything but the engine is outsourced.

Posted by Grant Ray | Report as abusive

A better way to honor the vets would be for John McCain to support medical benefits and funding for VA. When VA was recently busted for pushing lower diagnosis on vets in order to say money, John McCain said ‘it’s not important’. Visit or to learn about his poor vet voting record.

Or you can check out how McCain and Kerry shut down remaining MIA/POW investigations in order to open up trade with Nam. McCain’s father-in-law immediately opened up a beer industry there.

John McCain likes to run on a platform of being of vet, yet doesn’t support them.

Posted by MsSwin | Report as abusive

Hey Matthew (Reuters writer)
Did those Harley riders scare you or what? Your story was a bit timid.

Posted by tforeman | Report as abusive

“Hundreds of thousands of people”—Can we call McSame McCain an empty-headed “celebrity” now or would that be dirty tactics that he’s dead-set against-HA!–LOL!!

Posted by Dori | Report as abusive

McCain trying to sell the idea of “freedom” as if he has the corner on the market of “freedom”-HA! Just read up and educate yourself on the political party that has done the MOST to eliminate MORE of our freedoms than any other political party in America! GET EDUCATED sheeple!

Posted by Dori | Report as abusive

I ride a Harley myself, and I think John McCain is as incompetent as Bush. If you like America, why vote for another Republican who will continue to drive it into the ground? Fell for that trick in 2000. Never again.

Posted by Carbonic | Report as abusive

McBush can easily get cheers from drunk bikers with standard empty catch phrase lines but can he offer jobs and health care to those bikers? No. Only more deficits and same old same old republican BS.

Vote Obama, vote for freedom, vote for America!

Posted by BushGuiltyAsSin | Report as abusive

On a funnier note, the comedy website had a really great feature/photo gallery about McCain in Sturgis: n_goes_to_sturgis_because_8135.php

Posted by Taylor | Report as abusive

The amazing thing about McCain & the Sturgis rally is the amazing double standard that exists in this presidentail campaign. Can you imagine what the press would have done if Obama showed up at an event like that, with naked women, bikers, Kid Rock, etc. He would have been run out of town, by both the Republicans and the Press. Not John McCain. He even offered up his wife for a (semi) nude beauty contest.

In contrast, when Obama goes to Germany and 200,000 people show up to see/hear him, the Repubs and the media castigate him for staging an “empty headed” event.

John McCain… you should take a few tips from Obama and start thinking Presidential (if that’s even possible). Maybe the bikers and the biker girls will vote for you, but you just lost a zillion other votes, with your “empty headed”, tasteless pandering.

Posted by Longroses | Report as abusive