From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
GRESHAM, OR -- McCain will be getting his fair share of scrutiny from the press, his potential general-election rival Obama said here today.
During an event with mostly senior citizens, Obama was asked why the presumptive Republican nominee had not had to deal with much media scrutiny on issues like the Keating Five scandal. The voter felt the Illinois senator's past had gotten all the focus. Obama said he thought part of the reason was that McCain's candidacy had been written off several months ago, but that he had been able to come back and wrap up the nomination relatively early in the primary season, and that much of the focus had been on the exciting Democratic race.
"I would expect that the press will submit him to the same scrutiny that they are submitting me -- and if they don't, I'll have them talk to you because I can tell you would object," he said. "I think people will lift the hood and kick the tires with John McCain, just like they do with me and just like they've done with Sen. Clinton. I think you're applying for the presidency of the United States of America, then by definition you have given up your privacy and basically I think people are gonna want to know what you've done in your life and what you stand for."
Obama, who was introduced by his wife Michelle, used his opening remarks to talk about fixing Social Security and encouraging Americans to save more money. He called the entitlement program "one of the most successful programs in our history" and said it was the difference between a comfortable retirement and potential poverty. He said the government had an obligation to fix it, and he criticized McCain for his support for a plan to privatize the program.
"We already know what the Republicans will be running on. John McCain has already said that he supports private accounts for Social Security -- in his words, "along the lines that President Bush proposed," Obama said, adding that he thought privatizing the program was a bad, costly idea. "Sen. McCain's campaign went even further a few weeks ago, suggesting that the best answer to the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or to raise the retirement age. I think there is another option that is fairer to working men and women. We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden on to seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity."
Obama proposes adjusting the cap on the payroll tax (so that wealthier people pay more to help seniors) and eliminating income taxes for retirees making less than $50,000 a year, as well as transferable automatic workplace pensions that would allow employers to match employee savings.
McCain camp spokesman Tucker Bounds responded to Obama's hits. "Barack Obama's response to our slowing economy is to raise taxes on job creating investment. His response to high gas prices is to raise taxes on oil. With his lack of experience, it should be no surprise that Barack Obama's response to the problems facing Social Security is to raise Social Security taxes, while making misinformed partisan attacks. His proposal for billions upon billions in tax increases on Social Security is just another example of his weak economic judgment. John McCain has been clear about his belief that we must fix Social Security for future generations and keep our promise to today's retirees, but raising taxes should not be the answer to every problem."
Obama has a strong lead in Oregon, while Clinton is almost sure to win Kentucky on Tuesday. Although he often says the race is not yet over, most political observers believe the Illinois senator's lead in pledged delegates is insurmountable. He also leads by every other major metric -- popular vote, states won, and superdelegate endorsers. And Obama expects to be able to declare that he's won a majority of pledged delegates after the Oregon results two days from now. Still, exit polls have consistently shown Clinton outperforming him when it comes to winning over older voters, a group he hopes to make headway with should be become the nominee. This was his second recent trip to an assisted-living community.
The candidate spoke for about 10 minutes and spent some 45 minutes taking questions from a mixture of seniors and younger people on topics including Middle East peace, education, immigration, and the declining dollar. Surprisingly, he was not asked about his health-care plan, usually a major concern for older citizens, until about 30 minutes into the Q&A. He explained his coverage plan in much the same language his rival, Clinton, talks about her own proposal.
He ended by looking ahead to the general election, asking people to pay attention to the differences he lays out between himself and McCain, should he become the nominee. "John McCain wants to continue George Bush's policies," he said. "I hope that once you take a look where we stand on the issues, that you'll choose to support me, even if you are a Republican, go ahead choose to support me in this election.