By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008
CONCORD, N.C., Oct. 18 -- Sen. John McCain and several of his key advisers began sharpening a new line of attack against Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday -- likening the Democratic presidential nominee's tax proposals to socialism and saying they would not be welcomed by average, working-class Americans.
McCain inserted the charge into an address he recorded for broadcast Sunday on talk radio stations. The label came out of Obama's curbside chat with Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio man who became known during the debate Wednesday as "Joe the Plumber."
"You see, he believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that help us all make more of it," McCain said of Obama. "Joe, in his plain-spoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism. And a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines.
"At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," McCain added.
The nominee's conservative allies got the message. "Obama = Socialist" was emblazoned atop the online Drudge Report. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said on MSNBC that she is "very concerned that [Obama] may have anti-American views."
McCain did not use the socialism charge from the podium during boisterous rallies Saturday in Virginia [See stories, C1] and North Carolina, states that were once reliably Republican but are now being hotly contested.
Meanwhile, a top McCain adviser said the campaign's new message would resonate in "real Virginia," as opposed to the Northern Virginia suburbs, where "Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia."
Nancy Pfotenhauer, an Oakton resident, added on MSNBC that she meant "real Virginia" to be the "part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will."
The term was evocative of a remark made two years ago by then-senator George F. Allen at a rally in southwestern Virginia, when he told an Asian American aide of a rival campaign, "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
Former Virginia lieutenant governor Donald S. Beyer Jr. called Pfotenhauer's remark divisive and odd, given that the region is where McCain has "one of his eight homes."
"Once again, it is clear that the McCain campaign is more concerned with distracting and dividing Virginia voters than making the case that the McCain plan to extend the Bush economic policies for another four years is good for middle-class families in Virginia," Beyer said.
Obama scorned McCain's new attack during a huge rally in St. Louis, and he framed the disagreement as a moral debate.
"Here's the truth, Missouri: We are both offering tax cuts. The difference is who we're cutting taxes for," he told a crowd that was estimated at 100,000, adding, "It comes down to values: In America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it? For eight years, we've seen what happens when we put the extremely wealthy and well-connected ahead of working people."
And Obama mocked McCain's assertion that the Democrat's plan amounts to raising tax on wealthy Americans and small businesses to pay for tax cuts for those less well-off -- a plan that McCain at one point termed "welfare."
McCain is "so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare,' " Obama said.
The fight between the campaigns over working-class voters has prompted an increasingly sharp response from McCain, and the Republican's outreach to a blue-collar audience is not subtle. One aide stepped off the campaign plane Saturday wearing a hard hat emblazoned with an American flag.
McCain is also clearly hoping to connect with white, working-class men through Wurzelbacher. The plumber's 15 minutes of fame might be winding down, but McCain expanded his mentions of Wurzelbacher on Saturday, referring to "Joe" more than a dozen times in his speech at a crowded hall here.
"You know what Joe's dream is?" McCain said. "It's your dream. . . . Joe has reminded us, America didn't become the greatest country on Earth by giving our money to the government to spread the wealth around."
McCain has invited Wurzelbacher to join him on the campaign trail, but it is not clear whether that will happen.
McCain is also recasting the campaign into a debate between two competing economic plans, instead of a referendum on the past eight years under a Republican White House. In one of the day's most jarring moments, a crowd at Concord, in the heart of pro-Republican NASCAR country, gave McCain a huge cheer when he said, "I said it at the last debate: I'm not George Bush."
Staff writer Shailagh Murray, in St. Louis, contributed to this report.