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.