Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama gets big welcome in Jacksonville

Miami Hearald
To an amped and overflowing crowd in a Republican stronghold, Democrat Barack Obama stepped up his attacks on John McCain, saying Saturday that the Republican in these tough economic times ``wants to do for healthcare what Washington did for banking.''
Obama's broadside -- including a shot on McCain for having top Washington mortgage-industry lobbyists on his campaign -- was launched in the very city where, five days before, McCain armed Obama with a potent political tool: McCain's statement that the ``fundamentals of the economy are strong.''

McCain tried to clarify hours later in Orlando that he meant American workers were still strong. He also accused Obama of twisting his words.

But it was too late. Amid the failure of major banking institutions, tumbling stock prices, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and record home foreclosures in Florida, the economy became the top story on the campaign trail.

Obama followed McCain into Florida -- the nation's top job loss state -- and gave nearly identical speeches in Miami, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville to portray McCain as too much of a self-described ''de-regulator'' to propose workable regulations.

Meanwhile, McCain took an afternoon away from the campaign trail Saturday, traveling to the U.S. Naval Academy for his 50th class reunion.

The 72-year old and his wife, Cindy, attended a private reception with other members of the Class of 1958. McCain later headed to the ''Admiral's Bridge'' above the Academy's stadium to watch the first quarter of the football game pitting the Midshipmen against Rutgers University's Scarlet Knights.

The campaign announced plans to ratchet up its efforts in North Carolina, saying it had opened 14 offices in the state and hired 20 paid staffers -- a number that would likely grow to 20 offices and 25 to 30 staffers.

''This is a state that Sen. Obama and his campaign have targeted and put extraordinary resources and finances in the state,'' Mike DuHaime, the political director for the North Carolina McCain campaign, said in a telephone news conference.

Earlier in Daytona, Obama echoed his commercials that savage the Republican for supporting private investment accounts for social security -- something Obama calls ``privatization.''

The ad says the plan would cut benefits -- a ''rank misrepresentation,'' according to the nonpartisan Annenberg Fact Check service.

''John McCain is one-hundred percent committed to preserving social security benefits for seniors, and Barack Obama knows it -- this is a desperate attempt to gain political advantage using scare tactics and deceit,'' McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement.

But McCain ads attempting to tie Obama to former executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don't tell the whole story, either.

Obama said McCain's campaign is so heavily run by lobbyists that the past head of Fannie Mae's lobbying shop recently stated that, ``When I see photographs of Sen. McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me.''

The overflow crowd at Jacksonville's Metropolitan Park -- capacity 13,000 -- ate it up. The energy was notable because though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Duval County, it is a reliable area for the GOP. George Bush got nearly 1 ½ times more votes than John Kerry in 2004. McCain could barely muster 3,000 when he spoke nearby on Monday.

A strongly black area, Jacksonville buoyed Obama in the Democratic primary, giving him nearly 50 percent of the votes to Hillary Clinton's 33 percent -- the exact opposite of the final numbers for the entire state. Obama played to the crowd, quoting Marin Luther King and subtly recalling a Malcolm X speech by telling the crowd not to be ''hoodwinked'' and ``bamboozled.''

Crowd counts, however, aren't as good a measure as political polls. And a message trailed behind a plane circling overhead underscored what early polls indicate: ``Florida is McCain & Palin Country.''

According to a new Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll, McCain leads Obama overall by a negligible margin, but thrashes him 55-35 percent in North Florida.

Obama predicted he'd win Florida with Duval County's help, and he plans to stay in the state a little longer next week in Tampa Bay -- a crucial swing-vote area -- in a sign he might think he can take must-win Florida from McCain. Obama offered few specifics in the speech, making promises to fix virtually every problem in America: healthcare, education, energy dependence, and joblessness. He said he could pay for it all by ending the war in Iraq -- the latter getting his biggest applause.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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