By Michael Abramowitz and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
BENSALEM, Pa., Oct. 21 -- Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain took their competing economic messages to two of the country's biggest electoral prizes on Tuesday, with McCain accusing Obama across Pennsylvania of wanting to raise taxes and Obama attending a jobs "summit" with supporters in Florida, a battleground state struck hard by the economic downturn.
In Pennsylvania, McCain sought to link Obama's baseball allegiances to his tax policy.
"Now, I'm not dumb enough to get mixed up in a World Series between swing states, but I think I may have detected a little pattern with Senator Obama," McCain said. "It's pretty simple really. When he's campaigning in Philadelphia, he roots for the Phillies, then when he's campaigning in Tampa Bay, he shows love to the Rays. It's kind of like the way he campaigns on tax cuts, but then votes for tax increases after he's elected."
Campaigning in Florida, Obama countered that McCain has offered "little more than willful ignorance, wishful thinking, and outdated ideology" to cope with the nation's financial crisis.
Both campaigns were playing offense on Tuesday, hoping to steal away states that went for the other party's presidential candidate in 2004. But the day's events underscored the strategic landscape of the campaign in its final stages, with Obama much closer to moving Florida's 27 electoral votes into the Democratic column than McCain is in dislodging Pennsylvania's 21 votes.
McCain campaign officials in Pennsylvania insist the state is still up for grabs despite a double-digit lead by Obama in polls. A large cadre of conservative Democrats and independents are open to McCain's "independent streak," said his national political director, Mike DuHaime. DuHaime also said the campaign has an aggressive program in place to identify onetime supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats and bring them to the polls on Election Day.
DuHaime said the Pennsylvania race is "more competitive than some of the polls would have you believe." And he said the campaign has no plans to abandon the fight in New Hampshire and Colorado, two other states that have been moving away from the Republican in recent weeks.
In his final appearance of the day, in Moon Township near Pittsburgh, McCain criticized the "nasty" comments of certain politicians about western Pennsylvania, a reference to Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha's comments that the area he represents is "racist." Murtha has apologized for the comments, although he was also quoted as saying the area was once "really redneck."
"I could not disagree with these critics more," McCain said to loud cheers.
In his each of his appearances, McCain accused Obama of wanting to "spread the wealth," as the Democrat put it in a conversation last week with "Joe the Plumber," the tradesman who has become a staple of his speeches. McCain drew a roar from some 2,000 supporters in Harrisburg when he said Obama "believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans."
McCain also sharpened his latest line of attack on Obama: that the first-term senator would be a novice when it comes to international affairs. McCain revived the argument following comments from Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., that Obama might be tested early on in his administration, much as President John F. Kennedy was during the Cuban missile crisis.
"My friends, I have a little personal experience in that," McCain, a former Navy pilot, told the Harrisburg audience. "I was onboard the USS Enterprise. I sat in a cockpit on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise . . . off of Cuba. I had a target. My friends, do you know how close we came to a nuclear war?"
"America will not have a president who needs to be tested," McCain added to cheers. "I've been tested, my friends, and Senator Obama hasn't."
In Lake Worth, Fla., Obama gathered in a hot gymnasium for a jobs summit featuring former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, local small-business owners and four supportive Democratic governors from battleground states. The tone was immediately set when some supporters tried to work up a chant when Obama took the stage, only to be reprimanded by the Democrat.
"No cheerleading," he commanded. "We've got serious work to be done."
The crowd settled down on hard wooden bleachers for more than an hour and a half of sober talk about stimulus plans, rebuilding the nation's electric grid and creating a new "architecture" of jobs based on renewable energy.
Obama tried to link McCain to President Bush and said both ignored a growing crisis. When it hit, "they were ready to move heaven and Earth to address the crisis on Wall Street," Obama said, but not for Main Street. That's also an argument McCain has made of Bush in recent days.
Obama also said McCain was slow in calling for economic stimulus. "Nine months ago -- back in January -- I called for a stimulus plan to provide immediate relief for states, along with tax rebates to get money directly to middle-class families and a foreclosure prevention fund to help them keep their homes. Senator McCain, on the other hand, insisted that the fundamentals of the economy were strong."
The McCain campaign said it was Obama's ideology that was out of touch, especially his stimulus plan and the idea to help struggling state governments with a $25 billion shot from the federal government. In a statement late in the day, McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said a national crisis should not be "taken as a license for wasteful spending or earmarked projects."
But the governors said such spending was necessary, to help them avoid cutting social services and to build necessary infrastructure that would also provide jobs.
Just as important to Obama as the concentration on the economy was the chance to show off his relationships with Schmidt and Volcker, 81, who chaired the Federal Reserve Board from 1979 to 1987.
While the McCain campaign continues to try to link his rival to such controversial figures as 1960s radical William Ayers, Obama and his aides make the case that voters are more interested in his contemporary relationships, as Obama said during the last presidential debate.
"Let me tell you who I associate with," he told McCain. "On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed chairman Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden, or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO."
After the conference, Obama continued his blitz of early-voting Florida, where county election supervisors reported record turnouts as polls opened Monday. His wife, Michelle, filled the civic center Tuesday in conservative Pensacola, where John F. Kennedy was the last Democrat to win.
Barnes reported from Florida.