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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Obama talks of sacrifice and national service

July 03, 2008|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — On day three of a campaign swing meant to showcase his values, Barack Obama spoke about the importance of national service, telling an audience here that his work as a young community organizer gave him needed direction at a time when he was adrift.

The senator from Illinois laid out his plans for an expanded national service program, though little in it was new. As much as anything, his visit to this battleground state was to show that his values are largely mainstream -- a message he hopes will sink in among voters who may find him an unfamiliar figure out of touch with everyday concerns.

On Monday, Obama spoke in Missouri about patriotism against a backdrop of four American flags. On Tuesday, in Ohio's Appalachian region, he talked about how his "personal commitment to Christ" led him to pursue a career in community service.

Speaking here on Wednesday morning, Obama said: "Growing up, I wasn't always sure who I was or where I was going. That's what happens sometimes when you don't have a father in the home. But during my first two years of college, perhaps because of the values my mother had taught me -- values of hard work, honesty and empathy -- perhaps because they had resurfaced after a long hibernation or perhaps because of the example of wonderful teachers and lasting friends, I began to notice a world beyond myself."

Obama struck a more combative note later in the day, speaking via satellite to the United Steelworkers Conference in Las Vegas. In his speech he sought to link his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to the unpopular incumbent president.

"We don't have to wait for the verdict of history to know that the Bush years have been a disaster for hard-working families," Obama said. "And that is why we cannot afford to let John McCain serve out George Bush's third term.

"I have said repeatedly that I honor Sen. McCain's service to this country, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. But while he can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign."

Obama was introduced to the steelworkers by an erstwhile opponent, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Edwards, who has endorsed Obama, employed some of the same language the Democratic presidential candidate uses on the campaign trail.

"This is our moment, this is our time to build the one America we all believe in," Edwards said. "If you believe we can do better, trust your heart, help Barack."

An Obama campaign theme is that more Americans need to sacrifice for neighborhood and country.

He has put out a $3.5-billion national service plan that would double the size of the Peace Corps, recruit retired engineers and scientists to tutor students, and offer college students tuition aid in return for community service.

He has pledged to pay for the plan by closing corporate loopholes and ending the Iraq war, among other things.

A new piece of Obama's plan, described Wednesday, involves training veterans for jobs in industries devoted to renewable energy sources. Obama aides said they could not yet estimate the cost of his so-called Green Vet initiative.

"To marshal [veterans'] talents in building a new energy economy, I want to launch an initiative to give our veterans the training they need to succeed in the green jobs of the future," Obama said. "It's time to end our energy dependence at home so our national security isn't held hostage to oil and gas from abroad."

After delivering his speeches, Obama visited the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S. Northern Command and the Air Force Academy.

Gen. Victor E. Renuart, the commander of NORAD and the Northern Command, gave Obama a tour, describing the command's work in fighting California wildfires and other national disasters.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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