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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Week of ease ends for both Obama, McCain

August 18, 2008|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

RENO — Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail Sunday after a week off in Hawaii and argued that he is the presidential candidate who can fix the nation's economic woes, repeatedly slamming John McCain as a continuation of the Bush administration.

"I've got news for John McCain: My plan's not going to bring about economic disaster. We already have economic disaster from John McCain's president, George W. Bush," the Democratic candidate said as the union-heavy crowd roared its approval.

Obama spoke to about 250 supporters seated in the sunny courtyard of Earl Wooster High School. The event was his first interaction with voters since his vacation, which allowed his Republican opponent to enjoy the spotlight alone when foreign policy issues dominated the news because of the conflict in the Caucasus.

Last week, McCain, a 26-year member of Congress, spoke frequently and forcefully about the Russian incursion into Georgia after that country launched an attack on a breakaway republic.

McCain advisors and supporters, including foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), have accused Obama -- who initially called for restraint from both countries -- of being naive.

Obama did not mention the crisis in his Sunday appearance. He focused instead on the nation's economic woes, saying he hears from voters who worry their children and grandchildren will not have the same opportunities they had.

"They feel as though the American dream might be slipping away," he said. "That's what's at risk, and that's what this election is all about."

Obama pledged to cut taxes for 95% of Americans and reverse the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy; invest $15 billion in research on alternative energy sources; and provide greater access to healthcare.

Brian Rogers, a McCain campaign spokesman, said it was the Las Vegas Review-Journal that concluded Obama's tax plan was a "recipe for economic disaster."

In an editorial, the newspaper knocked the Illinois senator's plan to raise the top tax rate, increase the capital gains tax and end tax breaks for the gas and oil industries and private equity firm managers.

In Reno, Obama criticized his Republican rival, saying the Arizona senator's claims of being a maverick were absurd.

Top McCain campaign officials "represent foreign governments, they represent special interests from every corner of industry, so this notion that he is somehow fighting for the little guy is just nonsense," Obama said. "That's not who he's been fighting for -- he's been fighting for the same folks making out like bandits for years now."

McCain had no public events Sunday. He canceled a fundraiser in Miami and instead visited the Fire Rescue Headquarters near Orlando, Fla., where he was briefed on how local officials were preparing for the approach of Tropical Storm Fay.

Obama ended his day with a fundraiser in San Francisco.

In his appearance at the Fairmont Hotel, he predicted a difficult campaign.

"Change is always tough. And electing me is change," he said. "It means that people are going to hesitate a little bit. Ba-rack O-bama. They're still getting past that name. But it's a testament to the American spirit that I'm even standing before you as the Democratic nominee."

Before he left Reno for San Francisco, Obama took questions from the friendly audience.

When a woman asked what she could do to help him, he urged her to fight rumors that he is a closet Muslim.

"You've just got to tell them that's not true, he's a Christian," Obama said. "There's nothing wrong with being Muslim. We've got wonderful Muslim Americans. But the point is, don't lie about my religion."

Mary Bruns, a 65-year-old precinct captain from Reno, is worried the religion rumors, as well as prejudice against African Americans, could sink Obama's presidential bid.

When she canvasses door to door, she said, older people have made comments such as "I don't mind he's a Muslim, if he would just admit he's a Muslim," and "We can't vote a black person in there; they'll think they rule the world."

If people say that to her face, the retired nurse wonders what they say behind closed doors.

"I think a certain segment of the American population is just ignorant," she said. "I don't give them the time of day."

--

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Maeve Reston in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.

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