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Obama Avoids Partisan Rhetoric, Focuses on Unity

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008

DENVER, Oct. 26 -- On Barack Obama's march through the red states, there is no inclination to examine the philosophical differences between the political parties.

There's no point, he says. "We're all in this together," the Illinois Democrat assures the crowds who flock to his events, including one Sunday in the Colorado capital that drew between 75,000 and 100,000 supporters. "We don't have the luxury of relying on the same political games and the same political tactics that are used every election to divide us . . . by who we are or what policies we support."

Obama on Monday will begin what his campaign aides call the "closing argument" in his run for the White House: a sharpened distinction between what government would look like under him as opposed to under Republican nominee John McCain.

But as McCain and the Republicans step up their warning of unbridled power if the Democrats win control of the White House and Congress for the first time since 1994, Obama of late has largely avoided partisan rhetoric. Instead, he has focused on making a case for the themes he has emphasized in his nearly two-year campaign for the presidency and "the promise of change over the power of the status quo."

"Policies we support" might seem an important distinction as voters face this historic election, but it appears Obama would prefer the examination not extend beyond him and his Republican rival.

Obama is unsparing on McCain and President Bush -- "We will not let George Bush pass the torch" to McCain, he says -- and aides say his rhetoric may get sharper in the final week of the campaign.

Yet, in his recent speeches in early-voting states that went for President Bush four years ago, Obama never mentions a future in which Democrats run Washington. Instead, he seeks to reassure voters that what comes after Nov. 4, if he is successful, will not be a revolution but more of a reconciliation.

"Together, we cannot fail," he says. "Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save."

Obama, in his short tenure in the Senate, has rarely crossed Democratic orthodoxy, and McCain says his opponent cannot point to a significant issue on which he disagrees with the Democratic congressional leadership.

But even on the issue that propelled his success in the Democratic primaries, his opposition to the war in Iraq, Obama's message these days is one of soothing, nonpartisan conciliation.

"There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it," he says at almost every stop. "There are patriots who believe in Democratic policies and patriots who believe in Republican policies."

Bush and McCain sometimes seem excepted from that good-natured absolution.

"We're not going to let John McCain forget his record of the last 26 years," Obama says, referring to McCain's service in Congress. "It's time for change, but it's time for change you can believe, not somebody who's starting to try to break with his president over the last 10 days after supporting him for the last eight years."

The politicians Obama mentions in his speeches are from farther back. Under his tax proposals, he says, "tax rates will actually be less than they were under Ronald Reagan," adding that rolling back the tax cuts enacted under Bush would simply make the wealthiest Americans "go back to the rate they paid under Bill Clinton."

Enjoying the luxury that comes with being ahead in the polls and not yet forced to defend the states that Democrat John F. Kerry won in 2004, Obama's message "is one that is an appeal to independents," said his communications director, Robert Gibbs.

Obama can accuse McCain of being on the attack while he himself proposes uncontroversial sacrifices -- "turn off the lights when you leave the room" and calls for personal responsibility, which always draw a cheer from the crowds.

"I can put more money into education," Obama says, "but I can't make you turn off the TV or put away the video games. Parents have to parent. Fathers have to father."

And Obama plays off comments from his opponents to paint them as divisive, when the country wants a unifier.

"We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this country -- we all love this country, no matter who we are, no matter where we live, where we come from," Obama says.

"The men and women from" -- here, Obama adds the name of whatever state he is in -- "and all across this country who serve on our battlefields -- some may be Democrats, some may be Republicans, some may be independents.

"But they fought together, they bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America -- they have served the United States of America."

Sometimes the crowd responds with a chant not often heard at Democratic rallies: "U-S-A."

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