- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

DENVER | Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama will use the 68-day sprint to the election finish line to unleash a hard-hitting campaign attack that casts Republican opponent Sen. John McCain as a well-heeled, aging war hero who is out of touch with most Americans.

The Obama camp’s strategy includes defining its candidate as a “regular guy” with a humble background who understands the financial hardships facing middle-class families, and portraying Mr. McCain as a continuation of the unpopular Bush administration.

“It’s not about me; it’s about you,” Mr. Obama of Illinois tells voters in a recently minted stump speech he will take to the critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan beginning Friday.

The message is designed to shift the focus of the election away from Republicans’ unrelenting criticism that Mr. Obama lacks experience for the presidency and puts the focus on pocket-book issues worrying many voters.

Watch video of Thursday night at the Democratic convention:

The populist theme also deflects McCain campaign criticism that Mr. Obama’s celebrity appeal sets him apart from working-class voters and allies him with an elitist liberal establishment.

“If you ask most voters about who’s in touch and who’s not in touch with them, you’re going to find that more of them say Obama [is in touch], and by more than a few points,” Obama campaign chief strategist David Axelrod said. “If [Republicans] want this election to be about who identifies with everyday people and who doesn’t identify with everyday people, I say, let’s vote.”

The McCain campaign, which succeeded in blunting Mr. Obama’s lead in the polls this summer with a series of stinging TV ads, has the opportunity to sharpen its attacks as voter attention is captured by the Republican National Convention that opens Monday in St. Paul, Minn., where Mr. McCain will pick up the presidential nomination.

This weekend, in a run-up to the convention, Mr. McCain also will stump in a series of swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.

Mr. Obama’s campaign intends to put at least 18 swing states in play, only four of which Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry won in 2004, forcing Mr. McCain to defend once-safe Republican territory across the electoral map.

Campaign officials said they also will exploit Mr. McCain’s weakness among Hispanic voters and women to help capture battleground states, noting Mr. Obama’s double-digit lead with women in some key states.

“Most swing women in this country understand … if [Mr. McCain] is elected president abortion will be illegal in this country,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who joined Mr. Axelrod at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

But the jab risks alienating Catholic voters, including many Hispanics. Mr. Obama struggled to attract Catholic voters during the primaries.

Mr. Obama, who with his acceptance speech Thursday became the country’s first black presidential nominee for a major party, hit the campaign trail joined by running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who hails from Scranton, Pa., and has strong ties to the Keystone State.

Mr. Biden, a pro-choice Catholic who also brings blue-collar roots and years of foreign policy expertise to the ticket, said Pennsylvania is a must-win state.

“This is not hyperbole: We cannot win without Pennsylvania,” Mr. Biden said at a breakfast Thursday with the state’s delegates to the party convention.

“You’re going to have all the resources this campaign has available. That’s the good news,” Mr. Biden said. “The bad news: you’re going to have a whole helluva lot of me because I’m coming home.”

In the primary race, Mr. Obama failed to connect with working-class voters in Pennsylvania and lost to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York by a nine-point margin.

The Obama campaign nevertheless views the state and it’s prize of 21 electoral votes as ripe for the picking. Pennsylvania has not voted for a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988, a fact not lost on the McCain campaign.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat who backed Mrs. Clinton in the primary but vows to strongly campaign for Mr. Obama, told Fox News that Mr. Biden was a “hometown guy” who never forgot his middle-class heritage. “That’s the great thing about Joe Biden,” the governor said. “He never became a fancy senator.”

Polling in Pennsylvania shows a tight race between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last week showed Mr. Obama with a seven percentage point lead over Mr. McCain, but neither reached more than 50 percent.

After Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama will visit Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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