Obama in N.C., talks of struggle

Fresh from the first presidential debate, Democrat Barack Obama said Saturday that his Republican rival, John McCain, is not clued into the economic struggles of average Americans.

“Through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he didn't have anything to say about you,” Obama told a sprawling crowd in downtown Greensboro that police estimated at 20,000.

“He didn't even say the words, ‘middle class,'” Obama said. “He didn't even say the words ‘working people.'”

Obama, the Illinois senator, along with his vice presidential running mate, Joe Biden, sought repeatedly to tie McCain to the policies of President Bush on both the economy and the war in Iraq.

The post-debate trip to North Carolina – followed by a stop later in the day in Virginia – underscored the importance that Obama is placing on two traditionally red-leaning Southern states.

This was the fourth general election appearance by Obama in North Carolina, where he continues to draw immense crowds not seen here since the 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan. It was Biden's second visit.

By comparison, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, have yet to campaign here, and McCain officials could not say when they might.

Buzz Jacobs, McCain's Southeastern regional director, said McCain would do well in North Carolina in part because rural conservatives trusted his foreign policy experience and because they liked McCain's ideas of tax cuts, trimming back government and eliminating waste. He said that while Obama talked about the current financial crisis, McCain suspended his campaign this week and returned to Washington to address it.

GOP Congressman Patrick McHenry of Cherryville noted that Obama's stops had been in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro, the state's three largest cities.

“He's made four visits in the last 30 days to North Carolina and not surprisingly he only made stops in Democrat areas,” McHenry said. “So much for being on the offensive in North Carolina. He's simply trying to gin up the Democrat base in Democrat counties.”

Some in the crowd had traveled distances to see Obama.

Among them was Joan McNamara, an elderly retired school teacher from New Bern, who left her house at 4 a.m. to attend the noon-time rally.

“I don't think he (McCain) would raise his finger if I was sick,” McNamara said. “He (Obama) is a people person. He wants to do things for people.”

Biden, the Delaware senator, questioned McCain's wisdom on foreign affairs, leading the crowd on a “John McCain is wrong” mantra. He said McCain was wrong about the people of Iraq viewing Americans as liberators, wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction, and wrong that Afghanistan had been pacified.

“At this point we need more than a brave soldier,” Biden said referring to McCain. “We need a wise leader.”

Obama spent most of his time talking about the financial crisis, which he said was caused by “greed and irresponsibility” on both Wall Street and in Washington.

He tied McCain to the sort of deregulation that contributed to Wall Street's problems. And he derided McCain's claim that he would take on special interests.

“He says he'll take on the corporate lobbyists, but he put seven of the biggest lobbyists in Washington in charge of his campaign,” Obama said. “And if you think those lobbyists are working day and night to elect my opponent just to put themselves out of business, well, I've got a bridge to sell you up in Alaska.”

Obama said he would support President Bush's $700 billion bailout plan only if it met several conditions:

An independent board, selected by Democrats and Republicans, must oversee how the money is spent.

The $700 billion must eventually be returned to taxpayers.

The bailout must also help homeowners struggling to stay in their homes.

The CEOs who wrecked their companies cannot be financially rewarded.

“I will not allow this program to become a welfare program for Wall Street speculators,” Obama said.

Obama made his speech in front of the J. Douglas Galyon Depot, an old Southern Railway train station, amid tight security, including rooftop sharpshooters. The crowd spread out for several city blocks, and large sections of downtown Greensboro were barricaded. Obama and Biden walked on stage to the strains of rocker Bruce Springsteen's “The Rising.”

The highest-ranking Democratic candidate to appear with Obama was Ronnie Ansley, the Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner. But several Democratic leaders are scheduled to hold a news conference for Obama on Monday at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.

On the fringes of the crowd were a few McCain backers. Among them were Amanda and Jurgen Meister of Mebane, who were there to make sure people knew there were McCain backers in the state.

“I think Obama got so far because of his star power,” said Amanda Meister, a 32-year-old technical project manager. “We need someone besides a superstar to run the country.”