About 2,000 people attended a town meeting Saturday afternoon featuring presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in St. John Arena.

The crowd, representing a wide variety of interests including students, veterans, human rights advocates and union representatives, showed mostly enthusiastic support for McCain, whom Ohio voters will see on the March 7 primary ballot.

McCain was greeted by overwhelming applause as Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, introduced his friend and fellow senator as the candidate who will “give (the people) back the presidency by taking the power out of the hands of special interest groups and big business.”

McCain took the first half hour of the meeting to discuss his platform on issues, such as increasing health care benefits for veterans and reevaluating foreign policy. McCain criticized President Bill Clinton, calling his idea of foreign policy “social work.”

The budget surplus also was an issue on which McCain elaborated, calling himself a “fiscal conservative” who favors a middle-class tax cut, eliminating the marriage tax penalty, cutting corporate tax loopholes and establishing a Social Security trust fund in which young people can choose where to invest their Social Security money. All of these would help pay down the national debt, he said.

The floor was then opened up to audience questions for the remainder of the meeting.

While there was a noticeable lack of questions from students about higher education, McCain did respond to a wide variety of questions ranging from veterans’ affairs to foreign policy to human rights from about 15 audience members.

McCain discussed potential Chinese military aggression toward Taiwan if the island does not elect a president willing to consider negotiating a reunification. It is a complex issue in which Clinton has “mishandled relations with China,” he said. McCain said he would consider moving into international waters should China violate the one-China policy that calls for the peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan.

Youth cynicism about government and how to get young people to regain interest in public service also was a point of discussion.

“Young Americans need a president they can respect and look up to. They are not being represented which is why we need to break the iron triangle of lobbyists, special interest groups and big business,” McCain said.

The meeting was briefly interrupted when several protesters called for the retention of Navajo American Indian land. They displayed a banner and chanted, “Let the Navajos keep their nation.”

McCain promptly rebutted by saying he’d be happy to provide information about his stance on the issue.

“You might be more convincing if you brought a Native American with you,” he added, prompting the audience to break into cheers.

McCain also discussed gun control, saying he wants to hold fast to the Second Amendment. Safety can be enforced through existing law, implementing instant background checks on gun purchasers, promoting safety locks and investing in fingerprint technology that would allow only the owner to fire the weapon, he said.

“Getting rid of guns doesn’t solve the problem. The solution starts with the family,” McCain said.

In reference to a question on marijuana legislation, McCain said he didn’t plan on surrendering in the war on drugs, but it needs to be reevaluated. One initiative he proposed was to allow first-time drug offenders to complete an education and rehabilitation program instead of automatically going to prison.