- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. | Sen. Barack Obama couldn’t hold an umbrella over the 26,000 who waited hours in the mud to see him speak Saturday, so he joined them in getting soaked.

The Democratic presidential nominee and running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. held a full rally here despite the downpour Saturday night, telling voters in swing-state Virginia that Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain doesn’t get their struggles.

Mr. Obama — sticking to his new stump speech that noted Mr. McCain did not use the phrase “middle class” once during the previous evening’s first presidential debate — at first offered to take care of the dry-cleaning bills for the drenched voters.

Then he joked he needed the money for the campaign and asked them to consider it a contribution, prompting laughter. He worked campy rain metaphors into his speech several times, promising change may not be easy and it may seem “the sky is dark and rains will never pass,” but “as long as we’re in it together, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

Mr. Biden put on a baseball cap while Mr. Obama took his jacket off, leaving his white shirt soaked through by the end of the rally.

Earlier in Greensboro, N.C., Mr. Obama charged that on “issue after issue from taxes to health care to the war in Iraq — you heard John McCain make the case for more of the same policies that got us into this mess.”

“Just as important as what we heard from John McCain was what we didn’t hear from John McCain,” he said.

“The truth is, through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say about you. He didn’t even say the word ‘middle class.’ He didn’t say the word ‘working people.’ ”

The line of attack echoed a new campaign ad released after the debate titled “Zero,” as in the number of times Mr. McCain referred to the middle class Friday night.

The McCain campaign released its own ad highlighting all the times Mr. Obama said the Republican was “right” during the debate and charging that Mr. Obama is not ready to lead on his own.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he found that line of attack “puzzling.”

“Only someone who’s been in Washington for 26 years would put that ad out,” Mr. Plouffe told reporters on a conference call, adding that his boss “is not afraid” to say when he agrees with his opponent.

“Voters in the battleground states who are undecided actually responded very well” to that line, he said.

Mr. Biden, who will get his turn on a debate stage Thursday, lauded Mr. Obama’s performance in his first one-on-one encounter with Mr. McCain.

“Last night, America looked, and it didn’t just see a winner, they saw the next commander in chief,” Mr. Biden said. Foreign policy and national security were “supposed to be John McCain’s turf, and Barack Obama owned it last night.”

During a riff of his standard “change is more than a slogan” line, Mr. Obama said he’d noticed his rival using the phrase “need to turn the page,” something Mr. Obama has been saying for 20 months on the campaign trail.

“Come on, John,” he said. “Pretty soon I’m going to have to start saying I’m a maverick. You’ve got to come up with your own stuff.”

Mr. Obama also alluded to tightening polls suggesting red North Carolina may be in play for the Democrats, asking voters to help the campaign.

The Democratic ticket spent the day in the two red states they have visited often in an attempt to turn them blue Nov. 4.

Mr. Plouffe insisted the next debate Oct. 9 in Tennessee offers Mr. McCain another “home-court advantage” since it’s a town hall and the Republican has done more town halls than any presidential candidate “in history” and is the “undisputed champion” of the format.

“Maybe we’ll concoct a reason to suspend our campaign,” Mr. Plouffe quipped.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain largely continued his campaign suspension Saturday, telephoning members of Congress to win their support for a Wall Street bailout package that he hopes to have sealed before world financial markets open Monday. The Obama campaign dryly noted that he could have made calls from anywhere in the country and had no need to suspend his campaign last week.

Mr. McCain fired off an acerbic critique of Mr. Obama’s debate performance, ripping his rival over his economic policy and attitude on the war in Iraq, in a speech by satellite to the Ohio meeting of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, a hunting and shooting lobby group.

“It was clear that Senator Obama still sees the financial crisis in America as a national problem to be exploited first and solved later,” Mr. McCain said.

“This is a moment of great testing, when the future of our economy is on the line.”

Mr. McCain’s campaign ads returned to the airwaves despite the senator’s absence from the campaign trail. A new ad, “Promise,” notes that Mr. Obama voted against funding U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq because the 2007 bill did not include a withdrawal timetable. The ad quotes Mr. Biden calling Mr. Obama’s vote an attempt to make a “political point.”

The article is based in part on wire service reports.

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