Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain on Saturday accused Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama of pursuing a socialist agenda and seeking to hide his intention to redistribute wealth as part of a massive government welfare program.
Mr. McCain repeatedly cashed in on the October surprise of Joe the Plumber on the campaign trail Saturday, and also used his radio address to make the taboo “socialism” charge against Mr. Obama based on his candid admission to the Ohio blue-collar worker that he wants to “spread the wealth around.”
“Joe, in his plainspoken way, said this sounded a lot like socialism. And a lot of Americans are thinking along those same lines. In the best case, ‘spreading the wealth around’ is a familiar idea from the American left. And that kind of class warfare sure doesn’t sound like a ‘new kind of politics,’ ” Mr. McCain said in the weekly address.
“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” he said. “We should demand equal candor from Senator Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it’s just another government giveaway.”
Mr. Obama, addressing an estimated 100,000 supporters in the traditionally Republican “red” state of Missouri on Saturday, said Mr. McCain was describing the Democrat’s plans for middle-class tax relief as government “welfare.”
“The only ‘welfare’ in this campaign is John McCain’s plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America. … That’s who John McCain is fighting for,” Mr. Obama said in a rally under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
“But we can’t afford four more years like the last eight. George Bush and John McCain are out of ideas, they are out of touch, and if you stand with me, in 17 days they will be out of time,” Mr. Obama said.
In Prince William County, a bedroom community to the District that the Democrat is targeting as he seeks to win the bright-red state of Virginia, the Republican repeatedly referred to the Holland, Ohio, plumber, Joe Wurzelbacher, just as he did last week in his final debate and in other stops Saturday in Florida and North Carolina.
“He’s the only person to get a real answer out of Senator Obama about his plans for our country. Congratulations Joe. That is an impressive achievement,” Mr. McCain said to thunderous cheers from several thousand supporters packed into a courtyard on a chilly day.
“We learned more about Senator Obama’s plans from Joe’s question than we’ve learned in months of speeches by Senator Obama. We learned that Senator Obama’s economic goal is, as he told Joe, is to quote ‘spread the wealth around.’ This explains some big problems with my opponent’s claim that he will cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans. You might ask: How do you cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, when more than 40 percent pay no income taxes right now? How do you reduce the number zero?”
Mr. McCain said redistributing the wealth is “the key to Barack Obama’s whole plan: Since you can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, the government will write them all checks called a tax credit. And the Treasury will have to cover those checks by taxing other people, including a lot of folks just like Joe. In other words, Barack Obama’s plan to raise taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it’s just another government giveaway,” he said to deafening boos from the crowd.
Mr. Wurzelbacher has become the focal point of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the Republican mentioning him repeatedly on Saturday in two red states - Virginia and North Carolina - and rumors swirled that the plumber would appear with the nominee Sunday when Mr. McCain campaigns in Columbus, Ohio.
While Mr. Obama has expanded his playing field in the last month - he is making campaign stops in more than a half-dozen traditionally Republican states, including Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio - Mr. McCain has spent the last couple weeks defending his home turf.
The last time Prince William County voted for a Democratic presidential candidate was 1964, which also was the last time the state as a whole did that. But Democrats in this swing “purple” county think this year will be different.
“Each of the candidates has identified Prince William County as a real precursor of where this election is going to go,” said David Brickley, a former state delegate from Prince William County. “Both candidates need this county.”
Like the last two presidential elections, Mr. Obama is expected to follow the footsteps of the last two Democratic nominees and perform well in urban areas, while Mr. McCain will be strongest in rural counties. That makes transitional counties like Prince William, which borders the deep blue Fairfax County to the north and the bright red county of Stafford to the south, where President Bush won by 24 percentage points in 2004, the key to victory.
“I still think we’re very Republican in Prince William County,” said Maureen Caddigan, a Republican member of the Republican-controlled board of supervisors. “I wish that he’d been out here sooner, but we still think he can and will win.”
The McCain campaign got in hot water Saturday when an aide said the nominee still has a strong chance of winning the state because of his support in “real Virginia,” which she said was the state’s downstate rural parts and not Northern Virginia.
“As a proud resident of Oakton, Virginia, I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into Northern Virginia,” McCain adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer said on MSNBC. “And that’s really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message.”
Program host Kevin Corke asked Mrs. Pfotenhauer if she wanted to retract the comment, prompting her to reply, “I mean ‘real Virginia’ because Northern Virginia is where I’ve always been, but ‘real Virginia’ I take to be the part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro D.C.”
Earlier this month, Mr. McCain’s brother, Joe, told those at an event for the Republican nominee that two Democratic-leaning areas in Northern Virginia, Arlington and Alexandria, were “communist country.” He quickly apologized and called the remark a joke.
The latest average of polls in Virginia put Mr. Obama up by 8.1 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, and the trend has been all down for Mr. McCain, who was tied for the lead just a month ago, before the economic meltdown on Wall Street.
The Republican knows just where he stands.
“This is a must win,” Mr. McCain shouted to his supporters. “On November 4 and with your help we’re going to win Virginia!” he said to cheers.
Mr. Obama has had his sights on Virginia for years. Even before he began his run for president, visiting the state often, aligning himself with powerful politicians, mapping out a strategy to turn out the vote in deep blue Northern Virginia and the Democratic cities and suburbs of Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News.
He has built a massive ground operation in the state, opening 44 offices, one in nearly every county, and held a rally on Friday in Roanoke. The McCain campaign is launching a downstate bus tour on Sunday with Todd Palin, the husband of the Republican vice-presidential hopeful Gov. Sarah Palin.
One McCain aide said confidently that Virginia and other traditionally Republican states will come around.
“We’re going to win Virginia and Florida and North Carolina and Ohio and Indiana and Missouri,” the aide said. “Watch the polls; they’re all about to turn and turn hard. We’re not out of this. It’s just the beginning.”