All fingers point at President Bush
John McCain and Barack Obama finally found something they could agree on Thursday: Both assailed George W. Bush, and each attempted to link the other to the economic policies of the unpopular president.
McCain began the day with a sharp critique of his fellow Republican in an interview with the Washington Times and continued his criticism as he campaigned across the must-win state of Florida.
Responding to the latest government jobs report -- showing that 478,000 Americans claimed unemployment benefits last week -- McCain sounded like he was the Democrat bidding to replace the party in the White House.
“Barack Obama’s only answer is to double-down on the Bush administration’s legacy of out-of-control spending, raise taxes on small businesses, impose mandates on employers and raise trade barriers -- a time-proven recipe for turning tough economic times into terrible economic circumstances,” McCain said in a written statement.
Obama campaigned in Indianapolis, where he teed off on remarks McCain made Wednesday expressing regret about U.S. jobs sent overseas but calling it “simple fundamental economics” for companies to seek a lower tax rate wherever they can.
Addressing a lunchtime crowd of 35,000 -- and taking liberty with his opponent’s comment -- the Illinois Democrat said: “More tax cuts for . . . outsourcing. That’s what Sen. McCain proposed as his answer to outsourcing.”
McCain has sought for months to distance himself from his party’s incumbent president, telling Obama emphatically in last week’s debate -- and repeating to crowds ever since -- that he is “not President Bush.”
But the GOP nominee went to new lengths with his biting comments to the Washington Times. McCain blasted the president for building a mountain of debt, failing to pay for Medicare’s expansion and abusing executive power. “Those are just some of them,” McCain said of his differences with Bush.
At the White House, Press Secretary Dana Perino offered a terse response: “I’m not going to comment on the words that our candidate chooses to use. All I’ll say is that the president stands by his policies. He also stands by John McCain.”
In another sign of fracture in the Republican Party, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan became the second former Bush administration figure this week to publicly back Obama, after former Secretary of State Colin Powell did.
McClellan made the endorsement during a taping of comedian D.L. Hughley’s show that is premiering on CNN this weekend. McClellan, who caused bitterness among his former co-workers with a tell-all book that criticized Bush, said he wanted to support the candidate who had the best chance for changing the way Washington works and getting things done.
Pushing against a strong Obama tide, McCain devoted a daylong bus tour to Florida’s Interstate 4 corridor, a vote-rich region that could decide who wins the state and its 27 electoral votes on Nov. 4.
The Arizona senator continued to pound away at Obama’s tax-cut proposal, accusing the Democrat of adding a work requirement to avoid charges that he was creating a new kind of welfare.
“He changed his tax plan because the American people learned the truth about it, and they didn’t like it,” McCain told an enthusiastic crowd of several thousand, who packed a lumber yard in Ormond Beach, a suburb of Daytona Beach. “It’s another example that he’ll say anything to get elected.”
Later, after stopping for strawberry shortcake at a roadside produce stand in Plant City, McCain made a promise that echoed President George H.W. Bush’s famous “read my lips” line on taxes: “We’re not going to raise anyone’s taxes,” he said. “That’s my commitment to the American people.”
Back in the Midwest, Obama made a single stop before leaving the campaign trail to fly to Hawaii to visit his gravely ill grandmother. He plans to resume campaigning Saturday in Nevada.
With a huge bank account and a lead in every state he needs to win, the Illinois senator is traveling exclusively to places that Republicans won four years ago. On Thursday, that brought him to Indiana, which hasn’t backed a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Obama showed no signs of letting up, persisting in trying to hitch McCain to the president.
“We’ve tried it John McCain’s way,” he told his Indianapolis audience. “We’ve tried it George Bush’s way. And we’re here to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We can’t afford four more years of their ‘fundamental economics.’ ”
The scene was unlike anything Indiana has seen in well over a generation. Tens of thousands of people spread across the American Legion Mall, bundled against the chill and framed by rows of trees dappled with fall color.
Jim Cangany, 43, skipped work and brought son Ryan, 12, to join him as a witness.
“I just think folks realize that times are tough, and here’s a man with some answers and some plans that we can believe in,” Cangany said from a prime viewing spot about 100 yards from the stage. “It’s like what Martin Luther King said 40 years ago: It’s not the color of a man’s skin. It’s the content of his character.”
Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Washington and the Associated Press contributed to this report.