Democrat Barack Obama sharpened his message Tuesday, seeking to tie the nation's troubled economy around the neck of his Republican opponent, John McCain.
Obama said the middle class was struggling, that housing foreclosures were the highest since the Great Depression and that gas prices were too high.
“Raise your hands,” Obama said. “How many people think you are better off than you were eight years ago?”
There was a chorus of boos from the 2,500 people at the N.C. State Fairgrounds. But no hands were raised.
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Obama's appearance comes at a critical juncture in his campaign. He is set to name his vice presidential choice during the next several days and is preparing for his party's convention next week in Denver.
Obama has also been honing his message, stressing the country's economic problems under a Republican administration, as well as becoming more pointed in his criticism.
The Illinois senator tried to cast doubt on McCain's reputation as a maverick, saying he voted with President Bush 90percent time and was now adopting Bush's political tactics. He also linked McCain to lobbyists and Big Oil.
“You know what their strategy is going to be?” Obama said. “They are going to say he is young and he's got a funny name and he's not patriotic enough. We've seen this campaign before. … It works for Republicans because it feeds into the real cynicism that people have about government.”
This was Obama's second post-primary stop in North Carolina, each one in Raleigh, where Obama hopes to reach the high-tech workers and the transplants in the Triangle. Obama said the Bush administration has been “anti-science.”
But Obama has also been reaching out to more rural voters, talking about McCain's opposition to the Farm Bill that recently passed Congress.
Obama had hoped to make an unannounced bus tour of Eastern North Carolina on Tuesday, starting in Kinston and making stops along the way to Raleigh. But the plan was scratched when his plane had difficulty leaving Orlando, Fla., because of Tropical Storm Fay.
Obama has spent more than $2 million in TV ads in North Carolina, has opened 16 campaign offices and reportedly has 150 paid staffers in the state.
McCain's N.C. effort pales by comparison. McCain, for example, has run no TV commercials exclusively in the state. McCain has yet to have a public post-primary visit to the state, although he met privately with evangelist Billy Graham.
But it is not clear that Obama's gamble is yet paying dividends. A new poll, commissioned by the Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based conservative group, showed McCain leading Obama in the state, 46-40 percent. The survey of 600 voters was conducted Aug.14-17.
The average for recent polls in North Carolina shows McCain with a lead of 47 percent to 43 percent over Obama.
GOP leaders said Obama would likely fall further behind in the polls.
They said he was bringing the wrong message to North Carolina. They said he favored higher taxes, was lukewarm on drilling for oil and lacked McCain's foreign policy and national security experience.
“I think on all these issues – taxes and spending – the whole thing boils down to who is ready to lead,” said state Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger of Eden. “Sen. Obama would have the federal government increase all sorts of taxes.”