By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008
MANCHESTER, N.H., Sept. 13 -- Sen. Barack Obama brought his newly aggressive campaign against Republican opponent John McCain to an open-air rally here, castigating the senator from Arizona as a latecomer to the cause of change and imploring about 8,000 Granite State citizens to ignore the GOP's barrage of negative attacks.
"The McCain-Palin ticket, they don't want to debate the Obama-Biden ticket on the issues, because they're running on eight more years," Obama said under a sunny sky at Veterans Memorial Park. "They will try to distort my record, and they will try to undermine your trust in what the Democrats want to do. . . . But the times are too serious for those strategies to work this time."
After a long period of focusing his attention on more intimate events in high school gyms and work sites that communicated the feel of a candidate meeting face-to-face with voters, Obama returned to large crowds with the Manchester rally. The McCain campaign had long criticized such big events as a form of "celebrity" worship but has itself adopted the format since the addition of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the Republican ticket.
Saturday's event was toned down as Hurricane Ike ravaged Texas. An appearance by running mate Joseph R. Biden Jr. was scrapped. A scheduled appearance on "Saturday Night Live" was canceled.
Obama opened his rally here with an appeal for help for the Red Cross and hurricane victims in Texas. "During difficult times, during moments of tragedy, the American people come together," he said.
But unlike his response during Hurricane Gustav, Obama did not declare a temporary cease-fire -- an acknowledgment of the shifting dynamics of the presidential campaign since the end of the Democratic convention. Instead, Obama quickly pivoted from sympathy for the victims of Ike to a more aggressive speech focused squarely on the struggling economy, saying that "there are a lot of quiet storms going on all across America" in the form of job losses, spiraling health-care and college costs, and schools that are "underfunded and uninspired."
"People are concerned not just for their immediate well-being, but they're concerned about what happened to that promise, what happened to that dream? Are we going to be the first generation that passes on a country that is a little less prosperous, a little less unified and a little meaner than the last generation?" he said, intoning the phrase that has become his theme since the Democratic convention. "We are here to say enough is enough."
McCain, who was off the campaign trail Saturday, issued a statement about Hurricane Ike expressing concern that "there may have been a substantial loss of life." He added: "We do know that the economic impact from this storm will be severe. . . . But our priority now must be to help the relief effort in any way we can, and to pray for the safety of those in the storm's path."
Meanwhile, his campaign, under fire for the negative tone it has employed over the last week, tried to shift that criticism to Obama.
"It says a lot about Barack Obama's judgment that while his campaign canceled his appearance on 'Saturday Night Live' and his running mate stayed home, Obama went ahead and delivered a series of scathing personal attacks," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, calling the speech "a new low." McCain was off the campaign trail on Saturday but also planned to stump in New Hampshire on Sunday.
The Obama campaign did not let up.
"We will take no lectures from John McCain, who is cynically running the sleaziest and least honorable campaign in modern presidential campaign history," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
As the senator from Illinois spoke, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee officially highlighted a campaign commercial castigating McCain as a tool of Washington lobbyists. "His campaign manager lobbies for corporations outsourcing American jobs," the ad states, flashing an image of McCain with top aide Rick Davis. "The campaign chairman he picked last year . . . a bank lobbyist," it continues, with an image of McCain and former Texas senator Phil Gramm. "If seven of McCain's top advisers are lobbyists, who do you think will run his White House?"
Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod insisted that Palin has energized conservative Republicans mainly in Republican states that were going to vote for McCain regardless of whom he selected.
"There's not going to be a person in America who by the end of these next weeks will not understand who represents change and who represents more of the same," Axelrod boasted.