Back on the Stump, Candidates Attack Each Other on Economy

McCain, Obama Shift Messages Back to Political Center

Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama and others in the political spotlight made fashion statements at this year's conventions.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008; Page A01

MILWAUKEE, Sept. 5 -- Their political coronations behind them, John McCain and Barack Obama began a two-month sprint to Election Day by attacking each other over a report that showed unemployment surging in an already unsteady economy.

McCain joined Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Friday for two rallies in the Midwest, a day after accepting the Republican presidential nomination he had sought for almost a decade, using the backdrop of small towns to blast his Democratic rival as wanting to raise taxes.

"These are tough times. Tough times in Wisconsin. Tough times in Ohio. Tough times all over America," McCain told thousands packed into the picturesque downtown of Cedarburg, Wis. "My opponent will raise your taxes. My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases -- increases, he wants to increase your taxes! -- he'll eliminate 'em!"

Obama hit back sharply, using McCain's words to portray the Republican as insensitive to the problems of ordinary voters. Campaigning in the Scranton, Pa., area, he quoted McCain's observation, voiced during an interview with talk-show host Laura Ingraham two weeks ago, that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

"What's more fundamental than having a job?" Obama scoffed. "What's more fundamental than seeing your incomes keep pace with inflation so that you can save a little bit and watch your child walk off stage with a college diploma in their hand? What's more fundamental than that? I don't think this is because John McCain is a bad person. I just don't think they get it."

Both campaigns wasted no time in shifting away from the partisan messages aimed at the party faithful at their nominating conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn., and back toward the political center where both hope to find the votes they need for victory this fall.

An employment report released Friday morning reminded both camps that the nation's ailing economy cannot be ignored. Unemployment hit 6.1 percent, the highest in five years. Payrolls dropped by 84,000 jobs.

In Cedarburg, McCain delivered on the promise of his convention speech, making "reform" and "change" the central theme of his final campaign push as he casts himself as an outsider despite having served more than two decades in Congress.

"We're going to go across the small towns of America, and we are going to give them hope, and we're going to give them confidence, and we will bring about change in Washington," he thundered with a passion that seemed missing during his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

The crowd responded enthusiastically, chanting "John McCain! John McCain!" and booing any mention of Obama.

Palin, the first woman to appear on a Republican presidential ticket, continued her attacks on Obama, mocking his background as a community organizer in Chicago and deriding him as showing indifference toward small-town people.

"These are the people who do some of the hardest work in America," she said, prompting chants of "U-S-A." "They grow our foods and they run our factories and they fight our wars. They love their country, in good times and in bad, and they are always proud to be an American."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company