By Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 9, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 8 -- Barack Obama delivered a reassuring economic message and a combative John McCain blistered his opponent as ill-prepared and opportunistic as the two entered the final four weeks of the marathon presidential campaign with swings through the battleground states of the Midwest.
Obama followed Tuesday night's debate in Nashville with a rollicking rally in this normally reliably Republican state, delivering an optimistic view that the economic crisis is simply the latest challenge for a nation that has overcome worse.
"Listen here, Indiana: I'm here today to tell you that there are better days ahead," the Democrat told thousands who packed the grandstand at the wet and muddy Indiana State Fair. "I know these times are tough, and I know that many of you are anxious about the future. But this isn't a time for fear or for panic. This is a time for resolve and steady leadership."
McCain campaigned Wednesday in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and punctuated the day by telling an interviewer that his rival is not prepared to be president.
"I'll let the American people make a judgment in just 28 days," McCain told Fox News's Sean Hannity. "But I think he lacks the experience and the knowledge, and, most importantly, the judgment that he has displayed."
And that was among the milder attacks on Obama from the McCain campaign, which include a personal and stinging rebuke from McCain's wife, Cindy.
On the day after their second of three debates, both candidates quickly headed for the Midwest, where McCain desperately needs to replicate President Bush's electoral success in Ohio. Obama sought to press his case in Indiana, which has not supported a Democratic presidential hopeful since 1964, but where polls show him to be competitive.
The country's financial crisis, and the public's current belief that Obama is better equipped to handle it, have transformed the polls in recent weeks.
Obama went after McCain for his tax policies and for not saying during the debate that health care is a "right" of all Americans. But Obama's broader message was a reprisal of the inspirational themes that were once a staple of his campaign.
"What this crisis has taught us is that at the end of the day, there is no real separation between Main Street and Wall Street," he said. "There is only the road we're traveling on as Americans -- and we will rise or fall on that journey as one nation and one people."
He added: "Look at this crowd here today: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich, poor. We cannot fail, not now."
Obama told the crowd to prepare for a steady barrage of attacks from McCain, who he said cannot compete with his own message on the economy.
"I can take four more weeks of John McCain's attacks, but the American people can't take four more years of John McCain's Bush policies," he said.
The McCain campaign's attacks on Obama's judgment and readiness came often and from a number of surrogates. Cindy McCain led the way, accusing the Democrat of voting against funding U.S. troops in Iraq, which at one time included the McCains' son.
"The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body," Cindy McCain told a crowd of several thousand supporters in Bethlehem, Pa. "I would suggest Senator Obama change shoes with me for just one day and see what it means to have a loved one serving in the armed services."
The Obama campaign said McCain has distorted his vote, which was an attempt to force Bush to come up with a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq by setting a cutoff date.
But Cindy McCain's words may not have been the strongest of the day.
"Barack Obama's friend tried to kill my family," said a statement from John M. Murtagh released by McCain's campaign, the latest attempt to link Obama to Vietnam-era radical William Ayers, now a Chicago academic who has served with Obama on various boards and organizations.
Murtagh, a lawyer who has been critical of Obama, said the Weather Underground firebombed his house when he was 9, an act aimed at his father, a judge who was presiding over a trial of Black Panthers.
"The terrorist group founded by Barack Obama's friend William Ayers firebombed my house," Murtagh said. "Barack Obama may have been a child when William Ayers was plotting attacks against U.S. targets, but I was one of those targets."
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, has repeatedly linked Obama to Ayers in recent days.
On Wednesday, for the first time, McCain did as well during the Fox interview. "It's about Senator Obama being candid and straightforward with the American people about their relationship. He has dismissed it by saying he was just a guy in the neighborhood. You know it's much more than that.''
Obama did not respond to the criticism during his speech, but his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., said the attacks made McCain look like "an angry man, lurching from one position to another."
"You know, the idea here that somehow these guys are once again injecting fear and loathing into this campaign is . . . I think it's mildly dangerous," he said.
Biden spokesman David Wade said the senator from Delaware is prepared to be Obama's "defender in chief.''
Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. contributed to this report.