— From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Obama delivered what his campaign billed
as his closing argument at a high school here this afternoon, focusing
on helping working families and changing the way politics is done in
The Illinois senator, who was joined on stage at the beginning of the
event by his wife and young daughters, also had some new, tougher
language on the gas tax holiday Clinton and McCain have proposed.
His speech summed up all the themes he has been touching on in recent
days: the economic challenges facing Indiana and the country. He said
this election was about reclaiming the American Dream for all Americans.
"The challenges facing people across Indiana and across this country
are growing by the day," he said. "I'm not telling you anything that
you don't know. You don't have to turn on the news or follow the stock
tickers or wait for all the economists and politicians to agree on what
is or is not a recession to know that our economy is in serious
He told voters they would have to choose someone else if they wanted
more politics as usual, without mentioning his rival by name, despite
constantly linking Clinton to that kind of politics on the stump.
"This year, you have a choice," he said. "If you want to take another chance on the same kind of politics we've come to know in Washington, there are other candidates to choose from. But I still believe we need to fundamentally change Washington if we want change in America.
Polls show a tight race in the Hoosier State heading into Tuesday's contests and the Obama campaign is hoping to show it can win over not just the young, college-educated, upscale and black voters that he usually performs well with, but also the white, working class voters, who have overwhelmingly voted for Clinton in recent contests.
The Illinois senator has spent the last several days holding town halls and smaller events, like lunches and roundtables in an attempt to connect with these voters. He's held just three big-crowd rallies -- two in North Carolina and one in Indiana.
He touched on his middle class tax cut proposal, his plans for healthcare, investments in infrastructure and creating five million green jobs, which is incidentally the same number of green-collar jobs Clinton promises. And he used the gas tax holiday issue to portray himself as a new kind of politician who would not play political games to win an election. He noted the experts and editorials that support him on the issue and said Clinton had resorted to using a lobbyist for Shell Oil to explain how the holiday would be good for consumers.
"This is not about getting you through the summer, it's about getting elected," Obama said of McCain and Clinton. "This is what passes for leadership in Washington -- phony ideas, calculated to win elections instead of actually solving problems. Now Sen. Clinton and Sen. McCain have been using this idea to make the argument that I'm somehow "out of touch." Well, let me tell you -- only in Washington can you get away with calling someone out of touch when you're the only one who thinks that 30 cents a day is enough to help people who are struggling in this economy. Let me tell you what I think. I think the American people are smarter than Washington gives us credit for."
The Clinton campaign took objection to Obama's opposition to the gas tax.
"Considering that Sen. Obama voted to suspend the gas tax three times when gas cost less than $2 a gallon and has an energy lobbyist chairing his Indiana campaign, it's hard to take his latest criticisms very seriously," writes Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. "Senator Obama wants Americans to pay the gas tax but Senator Clinton thinks the big oil companies should pay it this summer."
It's true that Obama voted for a gas tax holiday while state senator, but, as we've noted before, he also voted against extending them as he said he saw little benefit to drivers as a result.
Obama walks a fine line when it comes to defending himself against his rivals' attacks without sinking into the kind of negativity that goes against the "new politics" he's said he wants his campaign to be about.
He was introduced by Amtrak machinist Mike Fischer, whose house Obama and wife Michelle visited this week for lunch. While there, they discussed kitchen-table concerns. Fischer said he made up his mind about Obama that day, calling the couple "regular people" who grew up dealing with the same kind of circumstances as he and the audience.
"This guy is not a typical politician who will tell you anything to get your votes; Barack is the real deal," Fischer said. "Here's what I want to say about Barack Obama: he listens; he understands; he is sincere and he has a good sense of humor."
The senator closed his speech by invoking another politician, who gained fame in his youth, to whom he has been compared, Robert Kennedy. Kennedy said 40 years ago in his Indiana campaign and Obama repeated, "Income and education and homes do not make a nation. Nor do land and borders. Shared ideals and principles, joined purposes and hopes -- these make a nation. And that is our great task."
He also spoke about the generations of past Americans who had fought for the opportunities that he and others enjoyed today and who made it possible for someone like him to have a shot at the presidency.
"That's why the only way a black man named Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, and started his career on the streets of Chicago, is standing before you today," Obama said, "and that's the only way I can win this race -- if you decide that you've had enough of the way things are; if you decide if you decide that this election is bigger than flag pins or sniper fire or the comments of a former pastor -- bigger than the differences between what we look like or where we come from or what party we belong to."
He urged voters in Indiana and North Carolina to choose him and to work to get out the vote on his behalf if they wanted the election to be about jobs and health care and good schools.
"In the face of all cynicism, all doubt, all fear, I ask you to remember what makes a nation -- and to believe that we can once again make this nation the land of limitless possibility and unyielding hope; the place where you can still make it if you try," he said to rousing applause.