OBAMA OREGON FRIDAY WRAP: A focus on McCain; a surrogate hits McCain on Keating Five; Obama talks Clinton debt, obsessing over race and Myanmar
From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- In a sign of what will likely be viewed as a shift
in focus to the general election, Obama talked about party unity and
his differences with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, but
made no mention of his rival for the nomination Hillary Clinton during
his remarks at a town hall Friday.
He touched on her only in passing, and in response to questions, during the 40-minute Q+A.
The Illinois senator also sought to set expectations for voters by
writing off West Virgina and Kentucky where he said he would likely
lose by big margins.
As he general does at the beginning of his critiques of McCain, Obama
said he honored his service but then went on to lay out where they
disagree on the economy, healthcare, the war in Iraq and how to deal
with high gas prices. He didn't mention Clinton's position on the gas
tax, as he did in nearly every speech leading up to the primaries last
week in Indiana and North Carolina.
"There's gonna be a real difference on the ballot in November and
that's what elections should be about," he said during the event at a
family-owned company outside Portland that makes science software and
technology for use in schools. "John McCain will stand with
Washington's tried and, I believe, failed approaches to (sic) the past;
I intend to stand with the American people on behalf of a new
He again called McCain's gas tax holiday proposal a gimmick and said he
would offer real relief by proposing a tax cut of up to $1000 for
families and he slammed the Arizona senator for what he called fiscal
"It's so frustrating when you hear somebody campaigning on being a
fiscal conservative and just ripping the budget to shreds," he said.
"We're still going to have a hole to dig ourselves out of and, you
know, I am not promising that the first year suddenly we've got a
balanced budget. We're gonna have to grow ourselves out of the hole
that we're in. But if we stop digging and then you've got projected
growth of the economy that's on a stronger, because we're making it
more competitive then say by the end of two years in office, hopefully,
we're back in a situation where we're balanced out."
Obama's first mention of the senator from New York, who bested him narrowly in Indiana Tuesday and whom he defeated handily in North Carolina, came when a man asked about their differences on healthcare. Clinton argues universal healthcare won't be achieve without a mandate and says his plan would leave 15 million people out. In his answer, Obama focused on the similarities between the plans before saying he did not believe in a mandate because he felt it was more important to lower costs, then went on to frame the matter in terms of the choice people had in the primary and his common theme that he would change the way things are done in Washington, a goal his critics, like Clinton, believe is admirable but naïve.
"Both Sen. Clinton's plan and my plan are serious attempts to provide universal coverage for everybody," he said. "John McCain's is not and so there's gonna be a substantial difference in whoever the Democratic nominee is with respect to how serious are we about a commitment to finally provide universal coverage for all people and one question that you have to ask yourself with respect to the democratic primary is who can actual shepherd through and get a bill done." He then repeated a common criticism he has of Clinton, saying she had tried to reform the system in the wrong way in 1993 by doing so behind closed doors.
He got several questions about education and when asked by a former science teacher how he would make sure to fully fund the America Competes Act, which aims to strengthen scientific education and research in the country, he focused on bipartisanship.
"It will be fully funded because it will be one of my top priorities, one of my top budget priorities and as president I will craft a budget that on the top line includes all the funding for these efforts," he said. "And the nice thing is that, there're really, although the administration is not a science booster, there are members of the Republican Party who are. I mean that was a bipartisan bill. Lamar Alexander was deeply involved in it, Republican from Tennessee and you've got a business community, many of whom are Republicans who recognize that if we are not generating the numbers of scientists and engineers then we are going to fall behind."
The senator used humor throughout the event, beginning his response to a question about how he'll help people pay for college – his plan includes expanded grant programs, lowered federal interest rates and a tax credit – by talking about the birth of his first daughter.
"The day my first daughter was born, she was born about I think one o'clock in the afternoon and we were there at the hospital and she was all healthy, everything was ok and Michelle towards the afternoon got, later in the afternoon got tired and she sent me home to get some stuff. So I get home right at 6 and, you know, I'm pretty tired, we've been up all night and so I turn on the Nightly News. The lead story: if your child was born today it will cost you $250,000 to send your child to," he paused and chuckled to himself. "And I sort of had a heart attack right there on the couch."
And toward the end, when a man asked whether he'd consider Clinton as a running mate, Obama asked whether the man had been put up to the question by reporters, before declining to speculate about who he'd chose and then handicapping the upcoming races and suggesting how he would be campaigning in the coming days.
"I have not won this nomination yet. I think it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that she's going to be my running mate when we're still actively campaigning," he said. "We do not have this nomination locked up. So we're still competing and she's going to do very well in West Virginia and Kentucky. She will win those states, in all likelihood, by significant margins. We feel like we've got a pretty good shot here in Oregon. We're going to be campaigning, you know, in Montana, South Dakota and Puerto Rico."
After weeks of complimenting his rival sparingly – at a recent speech he described her simply as "capable" – he heaped on the praise.
"I will say she has shown herself to be an extraordinary candidate, an extraordinary public servant," he said. "She is hardworking, she is tough, she is very smart and so I think she'd be on anybody's list, short list of vice presidential candidates but beyond that I don't want to offer any opinion."
Early in his speech, Obama misspoke about the number of states he had visited.
"It is just wonderful to be back in Oregon and over the last 15 months we have traveled to every corner of the United States. I have now been in 57 states," he said to a smattering of laughter in the crowd. "I think one left to go. One left to go - Alaska and Hawaii, I was not allowed to go even though I really wanted to visit, but my staff would not justify it."
New surrogate hits McCain on Keating Five
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who only recently endorsed Obama, hit McCain's authenticity, calling his campaign the "Trojan Horse Express." He also went after McCain hard on the Keating Five scandal the Arizona senator was involved in.
"Some are tempted by the false promise of John McCain and the so-called 'Straight Talk Express' with no small help from our friends in the corporate right-wing media," DeFazio said, "but let us call it what it is. It's not the 'Straight Talk Express' it's the Trojan Horse Express and inside are the same old failed Bush-Cheney policies, perhaps even more reckless on fiscal policy, perhaps even more reckless on international affairs. We cannot allow the American people to be fooled again."
On the Keating Five: "He says we need less regulation. Hello! Wall Street mortgage meltdown, Bear Stearns taxpayer bailout, Enron, but, you know, I guess maybe for a guy who was up to his neck in the Keating Five and savings and loan scandal less regulation is better."
This is noteworthy because in the final days of the North Carolina and Indiana campaigns Obama talked about how he'd gotten sucked in a little by the negative campaigning and that he had told his staff he wanted to run a positive campaign. He repeated the same sentiment about positivity in his North Carolina victory speech. It appears that with DeFazio being a new endorser, he hasn't yet gotten the memo.
At a later event, where DeFazio introduced Obama, he did not mention Keating Five. And Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki put out this statement: "There is more than enough space between Barack Obama and John McCain on the issues whether it is tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans or a timeline for bringing our troops home and that is where we will focus our campaign."
Obama speaks out against obsessing over race
At an evening rally at the University of Oregon, Obama talked about unity across party lines and across the country and said politicians should not focus on race and gender as a political tactic.
"People are obsessing about gender and they're obsessing about race and they're worrying about region and superdelegate counts and, you know, sometimes politicians we feed those divisions because we think it's tactical, we think it's advantageous," a tieless Obama told an outdoor rally of some 8,000 people on a cool Friday night in this college town.
The line sounded like a response to comments his rival Hillary Clinton made to USA Today about his weaknesses with some white voters, but a spokeswoman said he had made such comments before with regard to various statements Bill Clinton had made in the past that he believed were divisive but that he was not responding specifically to the New York senator's USA Today remarks. In an interview with the paper, Clinton said: "Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again," and that, "There's a pattern emerging here."
Obama said the race was not about him or Clinton or McCain but about changing the way things are done in Washington, a central theme of his candidacy.
He criticized John McCain's gas tax holiday proposal again, saying it had not fooled voters.
"The idea was to play the American people cheap, to think that they were too stupid to figure out that this was actually not going to work and it turns out that the people in Indiana didn't buy it, the people in North Carolina didn't buy it and the people in Oregon definitely don't buy it," he said to applause. "The reason is is (sic) because people want real relief and real solutions."
And early in his speech the candidate reprised a favorite joke about the long primary, adding a new twist.
"We've been at this for a while. It's been 15 months since I first announced. That means there are babies that have been born that are now walking and talking since I announced for president," he said. " They can't vote but who knows, maybe the primary will keep on going and they'll reach voting age by the time we are done."
The senator spoke for just over 45 minutes, coughing several times during his closing.
Obama talks superdelegates, Clinton debt, Myanmar
WOODBURN, Ore. -- Obama held an impromptu press conference for the first time on the trail since he won a decisive victory in North Carolina's primary Tuesday and lost narrowly in Indiana.
After chatting with customers and posing for pictures at Luis's Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in Western Oregon, Obama spoke briefly about superdelegates, Clinton and Myanmar.
He said he was pleased to be gaining the support of superdelegates but remained focused on winning pledged delegates and on getting people to vote for him.
"I'm gratified that we've got some superdelegates that are coming our way," he said. "And I think we've got a strong case to make that I will be a nominee that can pull the party together and take on John McCain in the fall. So we're gonna be -- our focus has always been on the pledged delegates and just getting the American people to vote for us and we think that ultimately that should be the strongest measure of who's the nominee, but if superdelegates also feel that we're gonna be a strong candidate then I'm very pleased with that."
He said he hadn't had any discussions about whether he would help Clinton pay off her campaign debt: "That's not a conversation that we've had because our working assumption right now is we're still in the middle of a race."
When pressed further on whether he would consider it, Obama seemed to suggest that he wouldn't rule it out.
"I think historically after a campaign is done you know and you want to unify the party, particularly when you've had a strong opponent, you want to make sure that you're putting that opponent in a strong position so that they can work to win an election in November," he said. "And so, you know, obviously I'd want to have a broad ranging discussion with Sen. Clinton about how I could make her feel good about the process and have her on the team moving forward, but as I said it's premature right now. She's still actively running and we've still got business to do here in Oregon and other states."
Relief for Myanmar
And he called for the Bush administration to work closely with the government of Myanmar to help get international aid to the country after the cyclone.
"I've been following this everyday with a mixture of heartache and frustration," the senator said. "I think the international community has to put significant pressure on the government there to open up. Get international aid in with no strings attached. This is a humanitarian disaster. And it's very important that the Bush administration immediately start working with China, that probably has more influence than anybody on the government in Myanmar to make sure that they are not allowing their interest in control to, to negate the critical efforts that have to be made to just relieve a tremendous amount of human suffering."
He said he could not comment on whether the Bush administration was doing enough to work with Beijing on the matter: "I have not yet had a conversation with Condoleezza Rice or anybody in the state dept so I don't want to characterize what they have or have not been doing until I hear directly from them because they could be pushing China hard and China's just not responsive. But I can't think of a more important foreign policy initiative for us to take the lead on than making sure that in addition to the maybe 100,000 people who've already died we don't start seeing cholera outbreaks and several more 100,000 people die."
Making broad appeals
Obama has been eating his way across primary states, sampling pound cake in North Carolina and an omelet in Indiana and today he mixed and mingled with the crowd at the restaurant in a bid to court the Hispanic vote. A few moments after he entered the restaurant, a man in the crowd at the counter shouted "Viva Obama" and then led the patrons in a few chants of "Si se puede."
Hillary Clinton has consistently outperformed Obama with Hispanics and it's important that he make inroads with the group to support his electability argument that he is a uniter who can appeal to people across racial and ethnic lines.