From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
SPRINGFIELD, MO -- Obama returned to the campaign trail today, guns blazing.
Responding to a barrage of attacks in recent weeks, he linked McCain to the Bush economic policies and claimed that it was the Republican nominee who was the "risky" choice in November.
"Nobody thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they are going to try to do is make you scared of me," he told more than a thousand people at a high school here. "'He's risky' -- that's the argument... It's like, 'Well, we don't have very much to offer but he's risky.' And let me just say, it's true that change, change is hard. Change isn't easy. And the question you have to ask yourself is, 'What's more risky?'"
He added, "We are in a time right now where it is too risky not to change. It is risky to keep on doing what we are doing, to accept the tired status quo."
Obama focused almost exclusively on the economy during his half-hour opening remarks, including the high-energy costs. He challenged the notion that drilling was the answer to the crisis, saying the effort may not have an impact for 10 years, if at all.
"I know gas prices have gone down, it's grand bargain now $3.95," he said. "Earlier George Bush was on TV talking about his energy plan. Now think about it -- where has Bush been over the last eight years? Where was John McCain over the last 25?"
Answering challenges that he is "Doctor No," Obama countered that McCain has said no to higher fuel efficiency standards and investing in alternative energy.
"And now suddenly they've got the answer -- we're going to drill for more oil," he said. "I know it's tempting. The polls say a majority of Americans say that's a way we're going to solve this problem. But it's not real... We don't need the same old tired answers. What we need is something new."
And one day after McCain promised not to raise taxes, Obama signaled he's willing to have a vigorous debate. Maybe even a duel. "The family legend is that Wild Bill Hickok, he's a distant cousin of mine," Obama said, noting an 1865 duel that happened in this town. "We're going to research that cause I'm ready to duel John McCain on taxes. Right now, right here. I'm a quick draw."
The McCaskill strategy
Obama is returning to the campaign trail after a more than two-week hiatus, most of it spent on his overseas trip. He chose to come to this part of Missouri -- an area that voted heavily for Bush in 2004 and where he trailed Hillary Clinton in the primary -- as part of what one local report called a Claire McCaskill strategy, to fight for votes everywhere in hopes of cutting into Republican margins.
McCaskill, who won a tight Senate race here in 2006, introduced Obama today, and gave a vigorous defense of him, especially to GOP charges that he's arrogant and unpatriotic
"They say that he's arrogant, that he's unpatriotic," she said. "Let me tell you -- I know this man. He is humble. He is devoutly Christian. He loves his family more than anything else in the world. He cares about families. He reveres our men and women in uniform. And he is as red, white and blue as you could possibly get."