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Now in play, N.C. gets attention

In Charlotte's biggest political rally in decades, about 20,000 people Sunday heard Barack Obama link John McCain and his party to an “era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington.”

“They said they wanted to let the market run free but instead they let it run wild,” Obama said. “And now we are facing a financial crisis as profound as any we have faced since the Great Depression.”

Obama, in shirtsleeves and tie, spoke for 30 minutes to a crowd that in many cases skipped church and a televised Panthers' game to see a part of presidential history.

Tracy Wilson and her 13-year-old nephew, both African American, got in line at 9:30 a.m., 31/2 hours before Obama spoke.

“I wanted him to see that the possibilities for any of us are endless,” she said. “I want him to be right here in this and see it from the ground up.”

It was the city's biggest gathering for a candidate since Democrat Bill Clinton drew 15,000 to nearby Marshall Park weeks before winning his first term in 1992. In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan drew 40,000 in south Charlotte.

Lines backed up for blocks on Third and Trade streets before and during the rally. Some people never made it past the security perimeter. Anti-abortion protesters shouted Bible verses as T-shirt and button venders worked the lines.

Obama fired up the partisan crowd as a new poll showed concerns about the economy pushing him into a tie with McCain in North Carolina, a state once considered a longshot.

The survey, by Raleigh's Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, also showed 58 percent of N.C. voters name the economy as their top issue, an increase of 10 points from last month. Two polls last week also showed the race tight in North Carolina.

In the heart of the country's second-biggest banking center, Obama called the government's proposed $700 billion Wall Street bailout “sobering.” He sought to blame the deregulation generally favored by Republicans.

“And yet Sen. McCain, who candidly admitted not long ago that he doesn't know as much about economics as he should, wants to keep going down the same, disastrous path.

“He calls himself ‘fundamentally a deregulator,' when reckless deregulation and lack of oversight is a big part of the problem … The radical idea that government has no role to play in protecting ordinary Americans has wreaked havoc on our economy.”

McCain, speaking at a National Guard convention in Baltimore Sunday, repeated his proposal to create a new government entity to identify bad loans and eventually sell them. He criticized Obama for offering what he described as few detailed proposals of his own.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said that shows Obama “is just not ready to lead.

“John McCain rejected complacency and political calculation in favor of a direct call for updated, effective regulations that will protect Americans' homes, savings and jobs,” Bounds said. “We cannot afford a directionless driver like Barack Obama.”

Obama called for another $50 billion “stimulus” payment to taxpayers. He has also called for overhauling the country's regulatory system. He promised to end tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, eliminate the capital gains tax for small businesses and start-ups, invest in a “green” economy and end the war in Iraq.

“If we can rebuild Baghdad,” he said. “We can rebuild Charlotte and we can rebuild North Carolina.”

Though Obama's words were barely audible to those on the fringes of the crowd, most liked what they heard.

“It seems like he gains energy with the number of people who are there,” said Charlotte Democrat Fletcher McMillan, 60.

Betty Austin-Ware of Fort Mill watched as a reporter interviewed people in the crowd.

“I want you to ask me because I'm old, and white and Southern and a feminist,” said Austin-Ware, 74. “They're putting too much (emphasis) on older, white, Southern women for McCain. That's not giving us any credit for having any sense whatsoever.”

Carla Lambert of Salisbury, a mother of three, left home at 7a.m. She was moved by the turnout.

“My husband told me not to come because I'd get lost in all this crowd,” said Lambert, 43. As Obama climbed the stage and the crowd cheered, she held a makeshift “I Love Obama” sign.

“I think I made the right decision,” she shouted above the din.

Staff writer David Perlmutt contributed.