Obama pounds away at McCain

Times Staff Writer

Taking aim at his presumed Republican opponent in November even as he faces two more Democratic presidential primaries this week, Barack Obama attacked John McCain on Sunday on Social Security, lobbyists and foreign policy. He said that the Arizona senator would continue what Obama contended were the failed policies of President Bush.

The intensified criticism of McCain came as the Obama campaign signaled that it had shifted its attention to the general election, and that it considered the Illinois senator's bruising Democratic nomination battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton nearly over.

Sunday marked the third straight day that Obama criticized McCain by linking him to Bush, whose approval ratings have hit record lows. By putting a spotlight on Social Security, Obama also reached out to elderly voters, one of the voting blocs that has favored Clinton in the Democratic primaries and that Obama hopes to bring into his camp in November.

Obama drew a roaring crowd of 75,000 -- the biggest of his presidential campaign, and equivalent to one-sixth of Portland's population -- to an afternoon rally in a park along the Willamette River here. The size of the turnout served as a reminder that Obama is strongly favored to win Tuesday in Oregon, a state whose voters -- comparatively well-educated and liberal -- appear tailor-made for him.

Clinton campaigned in Kentucky, the site of the other primary Tuesday, where she is heavily favored, benefiting from the state's more blue-collar demographics. She emphasized that she had no plans to quit fighting for the Democratic nomination.

At a stop in Bowling Green, according to wire service accounts, Clinton said: "It's not going to be easy, and it doesn't happen by wishing and hoping for it. It happens by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work."

She also said: "You don't tell some states that they can't vote and other states that have already had the opportunity that they're somehow more important. I don't believe that."

The two states voting Tuesday have almost the same number of delegates at stake -- Oregon with 52, and Kentucky with 51 -- but the Obama campaign says it needs only 14.5 more to lock up the majority of the nation's pledged delegates. In recent days, Obama also has moved ahead of Clinton in superdelegates, the party insiders and members of Congress who will help choose the presidential nominee at the Democratic Party's national convention in August.

To mark this milestone, Obama will hold his election-night rally Tuesday in Iowa, the state whose January caucuses gave his campaign a huge boost.

Speaking to reporters here Sunday, Obama called it "a terrific way to bring things full circle," quickly adding that it would be premature to declare victory.

Winning a majority of pledged delegates would signify that "the voters have given us the majority of the delegates they can assign, and obviously that's what this process is all about," he said.

Key Democratic figures have begun to rally around Obama. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who had remained studiously neutral in the race after dropping out in February, backed Obama last week, as did NARAL Pro-Choice America, a key liberal interest group.

Obama lately also has seemed like the candidate of chief concern to Republicans. He found himself in a fierce exchange over foreign policy with Bush, who in a speech to the Israeli Knesset implicitly criticized Obama as being willing to meet with America's enemies.

At the Portland rally Sunday afternoon, Obama said, "John McCain has decided to run for George Bush's third term, and we cannot have George Bush and his ideas still in the White House after this election."

Earlier in the day, he spoke to a small group of seniors at an assisted-living facility in the Portland suburb of Gresham and warned that McCain wanted to continue Bush's effort to privatize Social Security.

"Privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George Bush proposed it," Obama said. "It's a bad idea today."

At a news conference, Obama also criticized McCain in response to the news that Thomas G. Loeffler, the Arizona senator's national finance committee chairman, resigned his post because of lobbying ties, making him the fifth McCain staffer to quit because of lobbying connections.

"It appears that John McCain is very much a creature of Washington," Obama said.

The McCain campaign fired back by noting that Obama had associated with William Ayers, a former leader of the militant leftist Weather Underground. "If Barack Obama is going to make associations the issue, we look forward to the debate about Sen. Obama's associations and what they say about his judgment and readiness to be commander in chief," spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

McCain's campaign also countered Obama on Social Security, citing the Illinois senator's expressed support for raising the Social Security payroll taxes on higher-income people.

"With his lack of experience, it should be no surprise that Barack Obama's response to the problems facing Social Security is to raise Social Security taxes, while making misinformed partisan attacks. His proposal for billions upon billions in tax increases on Social Security is just another example of his weak economic judgment."

While turning most of its focus to McCain, the Obama campaign will continue to make stops in the handful of remaining primary states. Today, for example, Obama will be in South Dakota and Montana, which vote June 3.

"We're straddling two worlds," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "We are clearly focused and committed to spending time in all the remaining primary states. But we also feel John McCain has gone unchallenged."

Some of Obama's supporters were less diplomatic. "I think it's pretty well wrapped up," said Megan Peterson, 24, a business consultant in Sioux Falls, S.D., who wore an Obama T-shirt while waiting for her candidate to take the podium at the arena there Friday.

On Sunday, Obama mentioned Clinton only to reassure the audience that the Democrats would be united in the fall. He said he knew some were worried that the bitter, drawn-out primary would leave the party divided.

"Sen. Clinton and I have had a terrific contest, and she has been a formidable candidate," Obama said. "She has been smart and tough and worked as hard as she can, and she has run an extraordinary campaign.

"But whatever differences exist between myself and Sen. Clinton pale in comparison between the differences we have with the other side," he said.

At a forum in the southern Oregon town of Roseburg on Saturday, Obama was asked about how he would mend the split in the party.

Obama and his staff have taken pains not to declare Clinton out of the race, but in his reassurance that the two would campaign jointly this fall, his choice of pronouns may have been telling.

"Whoever the Democratic presidential nominee is," he said, "the other person is going to be standing right next to him."

--

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 22, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction Democratic primaries: A graphic in Monday's Section A showing how Oregon voted in the 2004 presidential election said George W. Bush won the state. As the graphic showed, Bush won more counties in the state but John F. Kerry won the popular vote.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°