Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought to score a quick post-debate advantage Saturday by traveling to two Republican-leaning states and accusing GOP rival John McCain of being out of touch with middle-class Americans.
"We talked about the economy for 40 minutes and not once did Sen. McCain talk about the struggles middle-class families are having," Obama told more than 26,000 people who stood out in the rain with him on the campus of the University of Mary Washington.
While Obama was out campaigning, McCain stayed in the Washington, D.C.-area monitoring by phone the congressional negotiations on a deal on stabilizing U.S. financial markets. Obama did the same while on the campaign trial, with aides saying he spoke by phone to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., as negotiators inched toward a deal.
"Unlike Sen. McCain, it didn’t take a crisis on Wall Street for me to realize that people are hurting," Obama said.
Obama returned to Washington Saturday night with his wife Michelle to accept an award from the Congressional Black Caucus at its annual legislative conference before taking off again Sunday for campaign stops in Michigan, a crucial battleground state.
Earlier in the day, Obama debuted his post-debate attack on McCain with a campaign swing through North Carolina, another traditionally Republican state like Virginia where Obama hopes to make inroads.
The Illinois senator repeatedly took McCain to task for not talking about any plans for helping the middle class in the midst of the country’s financial and fiscal crisis.
"Through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he didn’t have anything to say about you," Obama told the cheering 20,000-plus crowd at the J. Douglas Galyon Depot in downtown Greensboro. "He didn’t even say the words ‘middle class.’ He didn’t even say the words ‘working people.’"
The Obama campaign tried to back up that point in its newest ad, a spot released Saturday that also notes McCain never mentioned the middle class during the debate. "McCain doesn’t get it," the announcer says. "Barack Obama does."
McCain’s campaign suggested Saturday that the Arizona senator had referred to the middle class during the debate when he argued that Obama had voted in favor of higher taxes on families making $42,000 a year and proposed hundreds of billions in new government spending that would place a crushing burden on families and businesses. Obama disputed both of those assertions and said that 95 percent of America taxpayers would not pay more in taxes under his plan.
"If he was honest, Barack Obama knows he was unable to debate the merits of supporting higher taxes on the middle class, and bloated government spending during a looming economic crisis — it simply proved indefensible last night," McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement.
Appearing with Obama on Saturday, running mate Joe Biden called McCain’s judgment on every important issue "wrong."
"At this moment in history, we need more than a brave soldier. We need a wise leader, and that man is Barack Obama," said Biden, a Delaware senator.
While in Greensboro, Obama told MTV News that McCain has distorted his record, which he said has become an accepted practice in campaigns.
"We’ve become accustomed in our politics to folks just being able to make stuff up — it’s one of the few areas of public life where the standards somehow are lowered in terms of what you say about other people," Obama said.
Obama acknowledged his campaign has not always been accurate either.
"The truth is, we put out tons of ads, and there have been two or three times where we’ve slipped beneath my standards, where it was kind of a stretch," he told MTV News. "And when that happens, I tell my team, ‘Pull it down.’"
Obama’s wife, Michelle, and Biden’s wife, Jill, visited Tallahassee, Fla., together to urge young people and minorities to vote in November, capping a two-week voter registration drive.
In Michigan, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned for her ex-rival, saying that Republicans shouldn’t be rewarded "for what they have done to our country."
"We cannot turn over our country with these deep deficits, with these serious economic problems, with the international challenges, to the same team that got us into this mess in the first place," Clinton told more than 1,000 people gathered at a park in Grand Ledge, Mich., about 10 miles west of Lansing, the first of three campaign stops scheduled in the state.
Obama advisers said they were encouraged by his performance in the foreign policy arena at the debate at the University of Mississippi but immediately started dampening expectations for future debates.
"This was supposed to be John McCain’s turf, and Barack Obama owned it," Biden said.
Obama adviser David Plouffe told reporters the Democrat "spoke really to people in their homes about needing a president who is going to fight for the middle class, who is going to work on things like education and health care."
The presidential hopefuls are scheduled to debate twice more, at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 7 and at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 15.
The next debate will be a town hall format, and Plouffe called McCain the "undisputed town hall champion."
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Grand Ledge, Mich., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Obama campaign: https://www.barackobama.com/index.php
McCain campaign: https://www.johnmccain.com/