Democrat Barack Obama told a Charlotte audience Monday that Americans upset by high gas prices and a troubled economy face a clear choice in November.
“John McCain wants to continue the same policies that George Bush made a cornerstone of his administration,” Obama said of his presumptive Republican rival. “They haven't worked. If you are satisfied with the way things are going now, you should vote for John McCain.”
The Illinois senator spoke by phone to more than 200 people gathered in the library of James G. Martin Middle School in northeast Charlotte. He called from the St. Louis airport after mechanical problems caused his Charlotte-bound charter flight to be diverted.
His scheduled economic visit to North Carolina came the same day McCain began his own economic tour and again indicated his desire to compete in a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976.
Obama spoke for 10 minutes to an audience that included Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kay Hagan, gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue, party activists and regular citizens.
“When we planned this trip, we wanted to start off this week in a city that has seen wonderful economic growth over the last several years,” Obama said, “but like the rest of the country is experiencing some tough times …
“All across North Carolina, people are concerned about jobs as the economy has slowed down … People are worried and scared of the prospects for the future.”
Obama went on to outline his solutions to the ailing economy.
He called for new investments in infrastructure such as roads and bridges, greater access to high-speed Internet and what he called a “real” energy policy “not gimmicks like the gas tax holiday” proposed by McCain.
Obama also called for shorter-term fixes such as preventing home foreclosures and giving tax rebates to most Americans.
He has proposed tax rebates of $1,000 for 95 percent of workers and eliminating income taxes entirely for seniors who make less than $50,000. He contrasted his position with that of McCain.
“If you look at the essence of his economic policies, which are based on a large mass of tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, only a quarter of those tax breaks are going to the middle class,” Obama said.
McCain, who Monday pledged to balance the budget by 2013, has said he would also cut middle-class taxes. Among other things, he would end the alternative minimum tax and double the personal exemption for dependents. He also would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
“A proposal is great, but the fact remains that Senator Obama has voted for higher taxes nearly 100 times since being elected to the U.S. Senate,” said McCain spokesman Mario Diaz.
Among those who came to hear Obama was Gail Wilson, a Charlottean recently laid off for the third time in 10 years. She said she once worked in human resources for a company and herself had to help lay off people.
“I've seen both sides,” she said. “It's not a good feeling.”
Wilson also said she has recently seen people at gas stations filling up their SUVs, then pumping more into large containers, apparently stockpiling in anticipation of even higher prices.
“It's a scary thought that gas can continue to go up and up and up,” she said.
Other audience members had other economic worries.
“It seems unbelievable to me that you can have a stable middle-class family and with a major health crisis become bankrupt,” said Julie Peters, who works in customer relations for Michelin in Greenville, S.C. “I'm really concerned about the future.”