From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
ELKHART, Ind. -- It was another day of Paris, Britney and energy this morning, as Obama gave a point-by-point rebuttal to a new ad from his rival, and he and a top surrogate quipped about the celebutantes, during a town hall in this red state the Democrat hopes to turn blue.
McCain began running a television ad yesterday that referred to him as the "original maverick." The ad said Washington was "broken," the country was "worse off" now than four years ago and that the Arizona senator would reform Wall Street and battle Big Oil.
Obama joked that it had taken McCain 26 years in Washington to figure out that the system was broken and argued that contradicted McCain's earlier assertions that America had made "great progress economically" over the past eight years. He said McCain had boasted about voting with George Bush 90% of the time, which showed he was no maverick.
"I know that Sen. McCain likes to call himself a maverick -- and the fact is there have been times where in the past he did show some independence," he told a crowd of about 1,600 at Concord High School here in a city known as the RV capital of America. "But the price he paid for his party's nomination has been to reverse himself on position after position, and now he embraces the failed Bush policies of the last eight years, politics that helped break Washington in the first place -- and that doesn't meet my definition of a maverick. You can't be a maverick when politically it's working for you and then not a maverick when it doesn't work for you and you're seeking your parties' nomination."
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), whose name has been mentioned on a short list of possible running mates, introduced Obama. Bayh praised Obama for making frequent visits to the Hoosier State -- he cited 42 trips -- asked the crowd to tune out "political nonsense" like commercials that feature Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and called the Illinois senator a true uniter.
"Our current president ran for the nation's highest office, promising us that he would be a uniter not a divider. Well, it didn't quite work out that way now did it? It's about time we had a president who not only said it but meant it and Barack Obama will," Bayh said to applause.
In his brief, energy-centered opening remarks Obama once again called for an "all hands on deck approach" to confronting the nation's energy challenges, but differentiated his plan from McCain's -- which the Arizona senator has called an "all of the above" approach to energy issues. Obama argued McCain's proposals focused too much on drilling and read like an early Christmas list for oil and gas lobbyists.
The presumptive Democratic nominee listed Iraq's $79 billion budget surplus as another example of what he said was wrong with America's current energy policy and with Bush's policies in general.
"At a time when were spending $10 billion a month in Iraq they've got almost $80 billion that's not being invested in services for suffering Iraqis or reconstruction," he said. "Some of this money is sitting in American banks in New York on Wall Street collecting interest while you the taxpayer are paying for reconstruction efforts in Iraq. That's why we've got to bring about fundamental change."
Obama appeared to want to keep the starlet storyline alive to try to portray his rivals as silly. He concluded by asking the audience to ask their friends and neighbors the simple question of whether they were better off now than they were four years ago.
"Do they think that the economy is working right now? Do they think our foreign policy is working right now? If they do, then they should work their heart out for John McCain, because his policies are not different from what George Bush has been offering," he began. "But if you think that we need fundamental change. If you think that we can create a brighter future and we can have a more serious politics than we have right now -- one that focuses on solving our problems instead of on Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, then I need you to vote for me."
The tire gauge debate continues.
At one point during the roughly 1 hour, 20-minute event, Obama noted that McCain had come around to his point of view -- during a telephone town hall meeting with Pennsylvania voters last night -- that proper tire pressure was one way to reduce gas consumption, after several days during which the Republican's campaign had mocked the Illinois senator for making such a suggestion. He sparked laughter when he said that "in the coming days it's going to be interesting to watch this debate between John McCain and John McCain."
The McCain campaign sent around a response to the remarks about tire pressure.
"Barack Obama's continued assertion that Americans simply inflating their car tires is equivalent to additional offshore oil drilling is wrong, and underscores his lack of understanding of this issue," wrote spokesman Tucker Bounds. "True energy independence requires John McCain's 'all of the above' approach which includes alternative energy, additional offshore oil drilling, and safe nuclear power."
The e-mail included a longer quote from the telephone town hall that showed that while McCain had noted that the American Automobile Association strongly recommends keeping tires properly inflated, he did not think that "that that's a way to become energy independent."
It's worth noting that Obama's original statement on the issue was in response to a question from a town hall attendee about what they could do as an individual to help tackle the energy crisis.