In his third N.C. rally in two weeks, Democrat Barack Obama on Sunday took aim at what he called John McCain's “radical” health care plan and accused his GOP rival of “Swift boat-style attacks.”
Before more than 22,000 people in a football stadium, Obama spoke extensively about health care. But a day after GOP vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin accused him of “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” he fired back.
“Sen. McCain and his operatives are gambling that he can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance,” Obama said. “They'd rather try to tear our campaign down than lift this country up. It's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time.”
Palin was referring to Obama's association with fellow Chicagoan William Ayers, a founder of the Weathermen, a radical 1960s group. Obama has denounced Ayers' radical views and noted he was 8 when the group was most active.
She reiterated her comments Sunday.
“The comments are about an association that has been known but hasn't been talked about,” Palin said as she boarded her plane in Long Beach, Calif. “I think it's fair to talk about where Barack Obama kicked off his political career, in the guy's living room.”
Ayers served on the same Chicago charity as Obama and the two men live near each other in Chicago. Ayers also held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when he first ran for office in the mid-1990s.
But while Ayers and Obama are acquainted, the charge that they “pal around” is a stretch of any reading of the public record, The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported. Sunday, Palin said: “The Associated Press is wrong.”
Obama, in Asheville preparing for Tuesday's debate with McCain in Nashville, implied that such attacks are similar to Swift boat ads that sough to tarnish Democrat John Kerry in 2004. He turned for the second straight day to health care. He has three ads about the subject running in North Carolina.
“The question for you, Asheville, is not how can we afford to focus on health care. The question is: how can we afford not to?” he said.
He outlined his plan. Among other things, it would force drug companies to lower costs, would cut expensive red tape and subsidize the cost of catastrophic illnesses, reducing the burden to insurers.
As if rehearsing for Tuesday's debate, he also lashed out at McCain's plan. He quoted McCain saying he would deregulate health insurance “as we have done over the last decade in banking.”
“We can all see how well that worked out,” he said.
The watchdog site FactCheck.org says the Obama campaign has taken McCain's comment out of context. McCain, it says, “was referring narrowly to his proposal to allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines.” McCain argues that would give consumers more choice in insurers.
“The deregulation John is talking about would let people in North Carolina buy policies in California if it was a better deal for their families,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a conference call with reporters.
FactCheck says taxing benefits would partially offset a $5,000 credit. Experts say the plan would likely cause companies to reduce or eliminate health benefits.
Obama said his plan would cost $65 billion a year, though critics say it would cost more. He would pay for it by eliminating President Bush's tax cuts on those with annual incomes of more than $250,000.
Police estimated that Obama's rally drew 22,000 into the stadium while another 6,000 waited outside. One person in the crowd was Bruce Tallent, who left his Macon County home at 5 a.m. for the afternoon rally.
“Just came here to listen to a good, positive, uplifting message,” said Tallent, 40.
Many in the crowd walked past about three dozen McCain supporters, including 51-year-old Kathie Lack of Asheville, who carried a sign saying “The Communist party wants Democrats to win.”
“Sometimes the media has a way of giving the impression we all go in one direction,” she said. “We don't all drink the Kool-Aid.”