By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008
ALBUQUERQUE, Oct. 25 -- Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday treated President Bush's early vote for Obama's Republican rival more like a political gift than a rejection, and he vowed, "We're not going to let George Bush pass the torch to John McCain."
Obama returned to the campaign trail after visiting his seriously ill grandmother in Hawaii with a massive rally at the University of New Mexico and a pair of events in the battleground state of Nevada. In both states, he revived his effort to tie McCain to the unpopular president and highlighted Bush's vote Friday in the process.
In front of an estimated 35,000 here, Obama ridiculed what he said must be the "strangest twist of this campaign" -- McCain's assertion that he is the candidate more likely to change Bush's economic policies. Obama called that "amazing."
"He took it to a whole new level: He said I was like George Bush," Obama said at a high school football stadium in Las Vegas. "Loco!"
Obama launched into a litany of ways McCain has supported Bush, as well as quoting McCain's now-familiar comment that he supported the president 90 percent of the time.
"That's right," Obama said. "He decided to really stick it to George Bush -- 10 percent of the time."
Obama held rallies in Las Vegas and at the University of Nevada in Reno, and later crossed McCain's path here in New Mexico. He'll head to Colorado on Sunday. All three states voted narrowly for Bush in 2004, and the visits continue Obama's trend of strenuously challenging McCain in states that went Republican four years ago.
The campaign is feeling so confident about states that went Democratic in 2004 that Obama hasn't visited one since Oct. 16.
Polls show Obama ahead in all three of the states on this weekend's travel itinerary, and his campaign aides point to several measures that show increased enthusiasm for their candidate. In Nevada, one of the early-voting states that Obama has made a priority, 53 percent of those who already have voted are Democrats, compared with 32 percent who are Republicans. The turnouts were roughly even four years ago. New Mexico is experiencing a similar trend.
Obama referenced Bush more than two dozen times in his Reno address and said it was fortunate for McCain that the president didn't hold a grudge about the Arizona senator's attempt to distance himself.
"Because yesterday, he cast his vote early for -- guess who? -- John McCain," Obama said Saturday. "And that's no surprise, because when it comes to the policies that matter for middle-class families, there's not an inch of daylight between George Bush and John McCain."
The McCain campaign replied with a line the Arizonan used in the final presidential debate, and it continued to steer away from the president's legacy.
"No matter how he spins it, if Barack Obama wanted to run against George W. Bush, he should've run against him four years ago, because his opponent is John McCain -- a war hero and bipartisan reformer," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
He added: "Americans would have been better off if Barack Obama hadn't joined with the president to vote for virtually every Bush spending bill, voting for the Bush-Cheney energy bill and doubling down on the Bush administration legacy of out-of-control spending. Obama is just more of the same."
Obama said, in effect, that such an argument was not believable: "Let's be clear: John McCain attacking George Bush for his out-of-hand economic policy is like Dick Cheney attacking George Bush for his go-it-alone foreign policy."
Meanwhile, Obama is ready to associate himself with another former president. Bill Clinton, and the Obama campaign announced the two would campaign together Wednesday at a late-night rally in Orlando. Clinton is the last Democrat to have carried the Sunshine State in a presidential election, and Florida is vital to McCain's electoral strategy.
Obama's campaign events were his first since attending to his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who is in failing health. The Democrat made an emotional 22-hour visit to his home town of Honolulu to see the woman who helped raise him and whom he has called the "rock" of his family.
He spoke about her Saturday for the first time, albeit guardedly.
"I just want to personally say how grateful I am," Obama said before he started his Reno speech. "There are so many people who sent out their thoughts and prayers and sent my grandmother flowers and get-well cards. I just want you to know it meant the world to her, it means the world to me.
"Thank you, everybody, for being so gracious. It was really nice."