Criticizing McCain, Obama Keeps Focus on Economy

Barack Obama continues his campaign swing through working-class towns in the Midwest, speaking at an invitation-only picnic on a family farm in Dillonvale, Ohio.
Barack Obama continues his campaign swing through working-class towns in the Midwest, speaking at an invitation-only picnic on a family farm in Dillonvale, Ohio. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio, Sept. 3 -- Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday dismissed the ongoing Republican National Convention as a substance-free spectacle hiding behind Sen. John McCain's biography and ignoring the economic insecurity that many Americans are facing every day as he continued a swing through working-class towns in the Midwest.

"The truth of the matter is, the other party and John McCain don't get it," Obama told an audience at a Kent State University extension campus after being introduced by Gabrielle Neavin, who choked up as she described the difficulties she faced as a minimum-wage bakery employee trying to raise a child on her own while also attending college. "They don't get what Gabrielle is going through, and they don't get what most of you are going through. They just don't get it."

Since Obama accepted the Democratic nomination last Thursday before a crowd of 84,000 in Denver, his schedule has featured more intimate events in high school football stadiums and minor league ballparks. The Kent State event drew about 200 mostly female voters, who grilled the candidate on issues such as pay inequity and health-care costs. At an invitation-only picnic on a family farm in Dillonvale, against a backdrop of sunflowers and hay bales, Obama unloaded on the GOP.

"Joe Biden and I are going to deliver," Obama said, seizing on a comment McCain's campaign manager made Tuesday. "We want to talk about issues. The issues that make a difference in your life every single day."

The Democratic ticket has maintained a low profile this week, content to cede the spotlight to McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a surprise pick that has touched off a frenzy of interest in her small-town biography. Obama and Biden campaigned through the Rust Belt over Labor Day weekend, heaping scorn on McCain but barely mentioning Palin, who was chosen in part because of her potential appeal to disgruntled supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

But the Democrats' restraint appeared to fade when the Republican convention got underway in earnest Tuesday night. One speaker after another touted McCain's life story. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) criticized Obama's tax plan and said McCain would bring "continued prosperity for America and all her citizens," while Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) told the delegates that McCain, and not Obama, had the experience to be president.

Speaking at a community center in Fort Myers, Fla., Biden referred to Thompson and Lieberman in retorting: "I don't think I would run into a single Floridian who would walk up to me and say, 'Joe, the economy is going great,' unless I bumped into Joe or Fred."

Obama and Biden also pounced on a remark that McCain campaign manager Rick Davis made to The Washington Post, that "This election is not about issues, this election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

"Not about issues?" Biden shot back. "That means to them this election is not about whether you're able to scrape up the tuition money to send your kid to college."

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds later sought to clarify Davis's comment. "This election is about whose judgment you can trust to move America forward, and Barack Obama's strident opposition to additional oil drilling, more nuclear power and job-creating tax cuts for small businesses shows that he doesn't have the judgment to meet America's economic challenges," Bounds said.

Speaking in New Philadelphia, Obama criticized Palin and McCain for opposing measures to close the pay gap between men and women. He dropped the laudatory descriptions he had offered of Palin in previous days, when he called her a "compelling person" with "a great story."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a senior member of the House leadership and close Obama ally, released a statement that directly questioned McCain's judgment in the Palin selection -- a line of criticism that Democrats might press further in coming days.

"In choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has made the first decision of his would-be presidency, and he did it based on one meeting and one phone call," Emanuel said. "The result? The Republican vice presidential nominee is a brand new governor with no foreign policy experience, who hasn't been thoroughly vetted and tested, and could be one heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world."

Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.

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