From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones and NBC's Mark Murray
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- This week's market turmoil provided the basis for Obama's latest line of attack against his rival. The senator blasted McCain for his support for opening up the health insurance market to increased competition, for wanting to privatize Social Security, and for his ties to lobbyists.
The Illinois senator has seized on these issues as the country's economic troubles have taken center stage, using McCain's positions to paint him as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. He bashed McCain for his statement that he's "fundamentally a deregulator" -- when deregulation is part of the problem on Wall Street.
"My opponent actually wrote in the current issue of a health care magazine -- the current issue -- I'm quoting here, 'Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation,' he told a crowd of about 2,500 people packed into a school theater here in central Florida. He was referring to this article by McCain.
"There's only one candidate who said [that]. That it wasn't me. So let me get this straight: He wants to run health care like they've been running Wall Street. Well, senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren't going to think that's such a good idea."
As he did yesterday, Obama told the crowd McCain supported privatizing Social Security and asked them to imagine how people would feel had their retirement savings been tied up in the rocky stock market this past week. "I'll protect Social Security, while John McCain has talked about privatizing it. Now without Social Security half of elderly women would be living in poverty. Half. But if my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would've had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week. How do you think that would have made folks feel?"
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded with this statement: "John McCain is 100% committed to preserving Social Security benefits for seniors, and Barack Obama knows it -- this is a desperate attempt to gain political advantage using scare tactics and deceit... Whether he's using Rush Limbaugh in blatantly false advertisements or scaring seniors with 'rank misrepresentation,' Barack Obama has proven he will say and do anything to put his superficial ambitions over the real challenges Americans are facing."
However, McCain clearly supported President Bush's effort in 2005 to partially privatize Social Security. "Private savings accounts work," he said in March 2005. "They have been proven to work, not only in America, but all over the world. And we ought to really strongly support it."
Obama also hit McCain again for employing lobbyists in his campaign -- this time taking special digs at McCain adviser and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
"When John McCain says that lobbyists "won't even get past the front gate" at his White House, my question is -- who is going to stop them?" he asked incredulously. "Those seven lobbyists that are running his campaign? His campaign manager? His campaign chairman? The economic adviser who got a $40 million golden parachute when she was fired as a CEO? Or maybe the 26 advisers and fundraisers who lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? I mean, give me a break."
He went on to criticize McCain's attempt to tie him to former Fannie Mae chief executive Franklin Raines. "My opponent attacked me for being associated with a Fannie Mae guy who I met once and talked to for maybe five minutes," Obama said. "He did a TV ad saying this guy was my adviser. The guy actually had to send out a letter saying 'uh, that's not true. I actually don't really talk to the guy.' The same day he did that, the head of the lobbying shop at Fannie Mae turned around and said wait a minute, 'when I see photographs of Sen. McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me.' This is what the head of lobbying at Fannie Mae said. Folks, you can't make this stuff up."
The event was billed as a women's rally, much like the one Obama held yesterday in Coral Gables, and his speech focused on issues like pay equity, education, the right to an abortion, and expanded family and medical leave -- drawing contrasts with McCain at every turn. The candidate even broke into song at one point while complimenting his wife Michelle, a working mother. He compared her to "that Chaka Khan song," singing the line "I'm Every Woman" and prompting and gleeful response from the crowd.
The senator was introduced by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who stressed his opposition to privatizing Social Security, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who talked about Obama's upbringing by Midwestern women and his understanding of issues like healthcare and pay equity because of his experience with his sick mother and his grandmother's experience working for a bank.
The enthusiastic crowd that filled a theater at Bethune Cookman University, a historically black college, was about 80% black. Before the event, different groups took turns standing and shouting challenges to other groups. "We want change yes we do, we want change how about you?" they said. And later "We want change, we'll go vote, how about you?" They oohed and ahhed and booed and clapped throughout Obama's roughly 30-minute speech.