McCain to Close With Focus on the Economy

Mike DuHaime, John McCain's political director, said that Barack Obama's tax message is helping to generate a last-minute shift in McCain's direction.
Mike DuHaime, John McCain's political director, said that Barack Obama's tax message is helping to generate a last-minute shift in McCain's direction. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

HERSHEY, Pa., Oct. 28 -- Twenty months after announcing his candidacy by declaring that "I know how the world works; I know the good and evil in it," Sen. John McCain has been forced by the global economic collapse to close his presidential campaign on pocketbook issues rather than foreign policy.

On Wednesday in Florida, the Republican will give one last nod to national security issues, holding a meeting with his foreign policy advisers and giving a short speech. Aides said he will attempt to draw connections between national security, energy and the economy, arguing that Sen. Barack Obama is not ready to lead on those issues.

But the rest of his day will be rallies listed on his schedule as "Joe the Plumber Events," part of a final appeal charging that his rival would raise taxes on hardworking Americans and give the proceeds to others, driving down the economy.

As they stump across Pennsylvania, Florida and other battlegrounds, McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, now refer to Obama as the "Redistributionist in Chief" or "Barack the Redistributionist" or "Barack the Wealth Spreader."

At a campaign rally in Chester, Pa., held in a cold rain, Obama pushed back on the economic assault, saying: "There's only one candidate with a plan that could eventually raise taxes on millions of middle-class families, and it isn't me."

The Democrat told the thousands of people who braved temperatures in the 30s and blustery winds that McCain lacks credibility on the economy and taxes.

"John McCain has ridden shotgun as George Bush has driven our economy toward a cliff, and now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas," he said. "When it comes to the issue of taxes, saying that John McCain is running for a third Bush term isn't being fair to George W. Bush."

The focus on the economy is a far cry from the October argument McCain once thought he would make to voters. In the days before Florida's Republican primary in January, he said that national security would be the central focus of his campaign.

"Even if the economy is the, quote, number one issue, the real issue will remain America's security," McCain told reporters in the back of his Straight Talk Express bus. "And if they choose to say, 'Look, I do not want this guy, because he was not as good on home loan mortgages,' or whatever it is, I will accept their verdict. I am running because of the transcendental challenge of the 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremism, as you know."

Now, though, McCain focuses almost all of his time on the economic crisis that began in mid-September. Inspired by Obama's offhand comment to Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher about "spreading the wealth around," McCain is betting his White House hopes on taxes, whipping up his crowds with predictions of further economic decline in an Obama administration.

"Senator Obama believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs," McCain thundered to almost 10,000 supporters who gathered Tuesday morning at a stadium in Hershey. "There's nothing fair about driving our economy into the ground."

Palin went even further at the event, quoting Wurzelbacher as saying that Obama's economic policy "sounds like socialism" and declaring that "now is not the time to experiment with that."

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