John McCain kicked off a campaign swing in two Western states Friday with a new warning that electing Barack Obama could create unchecked Democratic control in Washington.
Republican incumbents and challengers are facing stiff battles in numerous congressional races, including in Colorado. Democrats expect to pick up seats in both the House and Senate and may reach a veto-proof majority of 60 in the Senate.
“The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that is exactly what is going to happen when the Democrats have total control of Washington,” McCain told about 3,000 supporters in Denver’s National Western Arena. “We’ve already seen a preview of their plans,” added the four-term Arizona senator. “It’s pretty simple and pretty familiar: tax and spend.”
McCain took aim at Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. In an interview on CNBC, Frank called for an immediate increase in government spending to prime the economy, and “speaking personally,” he said he would favor a surtax on America’s wealthiest people to help taxpayers recover the cost of government bailouts.
“We should take him at his word,” McCain declared. “And when he says that there are, quote, ‘a lot of very rich people out there whom we can tax,’ it’s safe to assume that means you.”
McCain’s latest appeal resonated with at least one swing voter in the crowd.
Richard McMeekin, who voted for Bill Clinton twice in the 1990s, said he probably would vote for McCain because he worried about one party dominating Capitol Hill and the White House.
“Congress is out of control,” said McMeekin, a 60-year-old accountant from Parker, a Denver suburb. “They need to be reined in. I’m not sure McCain can do that. But I’m sure Obama can’t.”
Sen. Obama of Illinois took a 36-hour break from the campaign trail to visit his ailing grandmother, who helped raise him, in Hawaii. McCain didn’t ease his attacks on his opponent, however.
“Sen. Obama is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity,” McCain said. “I am going to create wealth for all Americans, by creating opportunity for all Americans.”
McCain again slammed Obama’s plan to raise marginal income tax rates on the 5% of families who earn more than $250,000. The plan would reinstate the rates used during President Clinton’s administration, but McCain called it a “massive new tax increase.”
“Sen. Obama may say he’s trying to soak the rich, but it’s the middle class who are going to get put through the wringer, because a lot of his promised tax increase misses the target,” McCain charged.
Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor responded: “Sen. McCain can continue to make these desperate and dishonest attacks, but the fact is that Sen. Obama will cut taxes for 95% of working Americans while John McCain gives no relief at all to more than 100 million Americans.”
Half a dozen protesters interrupted McCain several times with chants about rights for the disabled. Each time, the crowd drowned them out with louder chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
When police led the group away, including two people in wheelchairs, the arena erupted in angry boos and catcalls. McCain held out his hands to try to calm the crowd.
Later in the day, McCain toured a factory in Colorado Springs, Colo. Afterward he told reporters that small-business owners need “lower taxes and less regulation.”
During most of his 26 years in Congress, McCain has embraced Republican efforts to ease regulations on businesses and financial institutions. In recent weeks, after the subprime lending bubble helped create a crisis in credit markets, he has argued that he sought to impose tighter regulations on mortgage lenders and Wall Street.
His call for “less regulation” Friday suggests he has shifted back again. McCain took no questions after his brief statement.
Colorado Springs was the second of three campaign stops in Colorado on Friday, including an evening outdoor rally in Durango. His running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, is scheduled to appear in the state next Friday.
Colorado voters narrowly backed President Bush in 2000 and 2004, but McCain has struggled to overcome a torrent of bad news from the state’s oil and gas industry, high-tech concerns and farming.
As in other battleground states, Obama is outspending McCain by a substantial margin in local TV advertising. He also has a large advantage in organization, with 51 field offices in Colorado, compared with a dozen for McCain.
“It’s tough,” said Ryan Wood, 30, an attorney from Littleton who was there to hear McCain. “We’ve got a Democratic governor, a Democratic majority in the state House and state Senate. And the Democratic National Convention was here. Plus we’re outspent.”
An average of the most recent polls shows McCain trailing Obama by 5 points in the state. He will campaign Saturday morning in New Mexico, another battleground state where Obama appears to hold a sizable lead.
Also on Friday, Obama picked up another endorsement from a Republican: Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld called him “a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who will transform our politics and restore America’s standing in the world.”
Weld, who was governor from 1991 to 1997 and before that was tapped by President Reagan to be U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, praised Obama’s “steady leadership” during the lengthy presidential campaign.
The announcement comes a day after Obama was endorsed by the Republican former governor of Minnesota, Arne Carlson, and Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary. On Sunday, retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, former secretary of State in the Bush administration, endorsed the Democrat.