Candidates each vow to shake things up

Times Staff Writers

Barack Obama on Saturday ridiculed John McCain’s renewed emphasis on his reputation as a government reformer, mocking the Republican presidential nominee in unusually sharp language while campaigning in this traditional GOP stronghold.

“This is coming from the party that’s been in charge for eight years. They’ve been running the show,” Obama told some 800 supporters here at the Wabash Valley fairgrounds.

“I guess maybe what they’re saying is, ‘Watch out, George Bush. Except for economic policies, and tax policies, and energy policies, and healthcare policies, and education policies, and Karl Rove-style politics, except for all that, we’re really going to bring change to Washington. We’re going to shake things up.’ ”


Ever since McCain selected her as his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has cited their reputations for political independence to argue that they would be more effective in changing Washington than Obama and his vice presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

“Sen. McCain has called the two of us a team of mavericks, and he knows that we’ve done some shaking up there in Alaska,” she said at the Albuquerque convention center before a crowd of about 6,000.

Saturday, both campaigns also talked up their economic plans in the wake of the worst jobless report in five years and news that the Bush administration was laboring to devise a rescue plan for the nation’s mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But it was the dispute over who could bring change that created the most friction.

On the second day of their post-convention tour, McCain and Palin sought to woo voters with their message of change in Albuquerque and, earlier in the day, in conservative Colorado Springs at a rally in a breezy airplane hangar. But it was Palin, much more than McCain, who pressed the argument.

As she had in her speeches Friday, Palin lavished praise on McCain and ridiculed Obama, the senator from Illinois, for his judgment on Iraq and his “high-flown speechmaking.”

“There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you, and that man is John McCain,” she said.

Palin repeatedly questioned Obama’s ability to reform Washington, but she also took aim at Biden, who has served in Congress a decade longer than McCain.

“Sen. Biden can claim many chairmanships across many, many years in Washington and certainly many friends in the Washington establishment,” she said, “but even those admirers could not be able to call him an agent of change.”

Obama, speaking in a pole barn where youngsters usually show off their livestock, offered a sharp critique of McCain’s widely viewed convention speech, acidly noting that some of the Arizona senator’s top advisors were lobbyists until they went to work for his presidential campaign.

“Suddenly he’s the change agent,” Obama said. “He says, ‘I’m going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over.’ Who’s he going to tell? Is he going to tell his campaign chairman, who’s one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager, who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell all the folks who are running his campaign, who are the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Who? Who is it that he’s going to tell that change is coming? I mean come on. They must think you’re stupid.”

Obama also criticized Palin, who has touted her opposition to federal earmarks even though she lobbied for millions of dollars of earmarks when she was mayor of a small town and, as governor, she requested $197.8 million in earmarks this year.

“When you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly, you’re the champion anti-earmark person, that’s not change,” Obama said.

Later in the day, Palin said she was “surprised that he raised the subject” and noted that Obama has sought almost $1 billion in earmarks in the last three years.

“Just wait until President McCain puts a stop to that,” she said.

Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that, excluding earmark requests for national programs, such as breast cancer research, Obama has asked for $853.3 million in earmarks for Illinois since he took office.

Also on Saturday, both campaigns addressed the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailout.

In Colorado Springs, McCain made only passing reference to the crisis, but later in Albuquerque he talked about a possible federal bailout in the context of the everyday struggles of voters who are were trying to deal with the economic downturn.

“You’re worried about keeping your job or finding a new one. You’re struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home,” he said. “The jobs number yesterday was another reminder of that. Today we’re looking at possible failure of our home loan agencies we need to keep people in their homes, but we can’t allow this to turn into a bailout of Wall Street speculators and irresponsible executives. We can’t let it do that.”

Obama, responding to a question after his rally in Indiana, said he believed the Bush administration would have to intervene, at the cost of billions in taxpayer dollars, to ensure that Fannie and Freddie would not collapse and further damage the housing market.

But Obama said that any federal bailout should be constructed in a way that does not reward the executives and shareholders of the two troubled mortgage companies.

“The one thing I want to make sure of is that whatever steps we take that we don’t let them make profits and keep those private, but then when they have losses simply those are all public,” he said. “You notice a lot of these folks don’t like government when they’re making money but the minute they start losing money, they think government’s just swell.”

Amid the day of partisan rancor, the candidates also found time for a bipartisan gesture: a joint statement announcing that they would appear together at ground zero in Manhattan to mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with the families and friends who lost loved ones,” the statement said.


Levey reported from Indiana, Reston from Colorado and New Mexico. Times staff writer Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.