- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. | Sen. Barack Obama struck a populist chord Sunday and sharpened attacks on his Republican rival for being well-heeled and out of touch, as he began a series of swing-state stops before accepting the Democratic presidential nomination later this week.

Mr. Obama, beating back Republican criticism that he is not ready to lead the nation, said the election should not be a referendum on his qualifications but a referendum on President Bush’s policies, which he said has left Americans with less money and facing higher prices for fuel, food and health care.

“It is not just that things are hard for people short term,” he said. “It is the gnawing suspicion that maybe, if we don’t do anything about how this economy works, that we may be passing on an America to the next generation that is a little poorer, a little meaner than the America we inherited from our parents and our grandparents.”

“That is un-American,” the Illinois Democrat told about 300 supporters at a campaign picnic in Rod and Gun Park on the shore of Half Moon Lake. “I don’t accept that future for my children, and I do not accept it for yours. I don’t accept it for America, and that’s why I decided to run for president of the United States of America.”

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee introduced NotReady08.com, a Web site that “will feature up-to-date information with daily press conferences via live streaming video, news reports and rapid-response research regarding why Barack Obama is not ready to be commander in chief,” according to the party.

To answer criticism that he is not prepared to be president, Mr. Obama on Saturday named as his running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans said Mr. Obama’s selection of a 35-year Senate veteran underscored the lack of experience at the top of the ticket.

Mr. Obama told voters not to be fooled by Republican claims that he will oppose gun rights and raise taxes. He said he is a strong supporter of the Constitution’s Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms and that he would cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. He also asked voters to ignore attacks mischaracterizing him as a Muslim or associating him with radical left-wing groups.

The candidate’s wife, Michelle, is scheduled to give a prime-time speech Monday at the Democratic National Convention in Denver to help voters get to know Mr. Obama.

“I think what you’ll conclude is: He’s sort of like us,” Mr. Obama said. “He comes from a middle-class background. He went to school on scholarships. He had to pay off student loans. He and his wife had to worry about child care and had to figure out how to start a college fund for their kids.”

He said his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, is out of touch with the common man and reminded voters that Mr. McCain last week told reporters he could not remember how many homes he owned and that the definition of wealth is making $5 million a year.

Mr. McCain and his wife, Cindy, own or have a stake in at least eight properties, according to reports.

“What that tells me is you just don’t get what is going on with people’s everyday lives, the folks who are making $20,000 a year or $40,000 a year or $60,000 a year,” he said to applause. “They are trying to get their kid into college or trying to pay their health care premiums every month. That’s who I’m fighting for. That’s what built America, the middle class.”

Mr. Obama continued: “This election is about you. The teachers and the nurses and the cops and the firefighters and the farmers, who are out there struggling, that’s who this election should be about.”

Mr. Obama stumped in Eau Claire, a town of about 63,000 people in western Wisconsin that started leaning Democrat in recent elections. His tour of swing states this week also will include a stop Monday in Kansas City, Mo.

He predicted a close election despite an economic downturn that he blamed on Republican policies.

He said many voters will be inspired by Mr. McCain’s “brave and distinguished” service as a Navy fighter pilot who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and then spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Senate.

“John McCain has a compelling biography,” Mr. Obama said. “I have respect for John McCain’s service. I don’t have respect for his policies because they represent four more years of the same, the same attitude and the same out-of-touch policies.”

Meanwhile, a man who tried to carry two hunting rifles and two pistols into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s downtown hotel remained in police custody Sunday.

Mrs. Pelosi and other guests briefly left the hotel during the Saturday incident but were never in danger, Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said, according to the Associated Press.

Joseph Calanchini, 29, of Pinedale, Wyo., faces a charge of unlawful carrying of a weapon. Police officers at the Grand Hyatt hotel noticed him carrying a rifle-type case at the entrance and detained him. Mr. Wiley said he didn’t know whether the weapons were loaded.

“The speaker was never in any danger, and she appreciates the quick and professional response of the police,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.

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