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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Candidates focus on the fiscal crisis

McCain opts to head back to Washington. Obama keeps abreast of negotiations while on the campaign trail.

September 28, 2008|Peter Nicholas and Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writers

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Coming off the first presidential debate, Barack Obama on Saturday delivered a cutting attack on rival John McCain, mocking some answers the Republican nominee gave during their face-to-face meeting and accusing him of pirating Democratic campaign slogans.

Obama's appearance before a cheering crowd of about 20,000 was just the start of a busy day. The Democratic nominee later addressed a rally in Virginia and attended a Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington.

Aides said Obama also devoted some time to the nation's financial crisis: He was briefed on the negotiations over the $700-billion bailout plan and spoke directly with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Obama's travels underscore his campaign's wish to expand the electoral map. North Carolina and Virginia traditionally lean Republican, and the Democratic candidate is hoping to improve his odds of winning the White House by peeling off states that voted for President Bush in 2004.

In a post-debate interview Friday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe described Virginia and Colorado as "five-alarm fires for John McCain. If he doesn't get those turned around quickly, he's going to have a very tough time showing a path to the presidency."

At the Greensboro rally, Obama said: "The truth is, through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me. But he had nothing to say about you.

"Didn't even say the words 'middle class.' Didn't say the words 'working people.' You see, I think Sen. McCain just doesn't get it. He doesn't get this crisis on Wall Street. He doesn't get the fact that it hit Main Street long ago."

Obama said that for two weeks, McCain had been "shifting solutions . . . looking for a photo op and trying to figure out what to say and what to do" about the nation's financial woes.

"Well, North Carolina, I know what we need to do," Obama said. "We need to stop giving tax cuts to corporations and CEOs on Wall Street and start standing up for families on Main Street."

Obama also chided the Arizona senator for reusing a familiar line in the debate. In condemning federal pork-barrel projects, McCain had cited a study on grizzly bear DNA.

"He railed against some study on bears in Montana," Obama said. "That's an old line he's been using since the beginning of this campaign. But he had nothing to say about the fact that more and more Americans can't afford to pay for their college education; can't afford healthcare for their families; can't afford a retirement that is dignified and secure."

Obama himself invoked oft-repeated phrases from his basic stump speech during the debate.

The Illinois senator voiced annoyance that McCain had been emphasizing that he and his vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would bring about "change," an Obama campaign mantra.

"He's been grabbing our signs, using our slogans," Obama said. "The other day he said, 'I think we need to turn the page.'

"It's like, 'C'mon, John. I've been saying that for . . . how long have I been saying that? Pretty soon I'm going to have to start saying I'm a maverick."

The crowd laughed at his use of the word often used to characterize McCain.

Obama repeated much the same message at an early- evening rally at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. A steady rain fell as Obama spoke to a crowd of 26,000, with running mate Joe Biden sitting on stage behind him.

At one point Obama jokingly offered to pick up the dry-cleaning bills for the crowd, then said the money was too important to the campaign.

"It's just trickling down a little bit here," Obama said. "Joe, you look good enough so if you want to cut out that's all right. Joe's one of the best-dressed vice presidents we'll ever have, as well."

The Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington was Obama's third and final campaign event of the day. He told the group he had spent a considerable amount of time Saturday talking to congressional leaders about the financial crisis.

"Negotiations have been proceeding," Obama said. "I've been on the phone all day."

He repeated the conditions he wanted to see in any bailout deal, including oversight, remuneration for taxpayers, and help for people who are losing their homes.

"We cannot and will not simply bail out Wall Street without helping millions of homeowners who are struggling to stay in their homes in communities across America," Obama said. "The American people must not be rewarding the very same Wall Street CEOs whose greed and irresponsibility got us into this mess in the first place."

McCain went to Washington after the Friday-night debate at the University of Mississippi, arriving there after 3:30 a.m. He worked at his campaign office Saturday afternoon, and aides said he telephoned Paulson, Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and more than a dozen members of Congress to discuss the proposed bailout legislation.

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