HERSHEY, Pa. — Twenty months after announcing his candidacy by declaring that “I know how the world works; I know the good and evil in it,” Sen. John McCain has been forced by the global economic collapse to close his presidential campaign on pocketbook issues rather than foreign policy.
Today in Florida, the Republican will give one last nod to national security issues, holding a meeting with his foreign policy advisers and giving a short speech. Aides said he will attempt to draw connections between national security, energy and the economy, arguing that Democratic Sen. Barack Obama is not ready to lead on those issues.
But the rest of his day will be rallies listed on his schedule as “Joe the Plumber Events,” part of a final appeal charging that his rival would raise taxes on hardworking Americans and give the proceeds to others, driving the economy down in the process.
As they stump across Pennsylvania, Florida and other battlegrounds, McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, now refer to Obama as the “Redistributionist in Chief” or “Barack the Redistributionist” or “Barack the Wealth Spreader.”
At a campaign rally in Chester, Pa., held in a cold rain, Obama pushed back on the economic assault, saying, “There’s only one candidate with a plan that could eventually raise taxes on millions of middle-class families, and it isn’t me.”
The Democrat told the thousands of people that McCain lacks credibility on the economy and taxes.
“John McCain has ridden shotgun as George Bush has driven our economy toward a cliff, and now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas,” he said. “When it comes to the issue of taxes, saying that John McCain is running for a third Bush term isn’t being fair to George W. Bush.”
The focus on the economy is a far cry from the October argument McCain once thought he would make to voters. In the days before Florida’s Republican primary in January, he said that national security would be the central focus of his campaign.
“Even if the economy is the, quote, number one issue, the real issue will remain America’s security,” McCain told reporters on the back of his Straight Talk Express bus. “And if they choose to say, ‘Look, I do not want this guy, because he was not as good on home loan mortgages,’ or whatever it is, I will accept their verdict. I am running because of the transcendental challenge of the 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremism, as you know.”
Now, though, McCain focuses almost all of his time on the economic crisis that began in mid-September.
“Senator Obama believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs,” McCain thundered to almost 10,000 supporters who gathered Tuesday morning at a stadium in Hershey. “There’s nothing fair about driving our economy into the ground.”
Latest poll says Obama has a big lead
Obama has a 16-point lead over McCain among registered voters, a Pew Research Center poll says.
Registered voters polled said they preferred Obama over McCain 52 percent to 36 percent, respectively..
The Pew poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday by phone with 1,325 registered voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
McCain gains backing of Joe the Plumber
Joe the Plumber, also known as Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher, endorsed McCain for president on Tuesday. Wurzelbacher gained national attention when Obama told him during a campaign stop that he wanted to “spread the wealth around.” Their exchange about Obama’s tax plan aired countless times on cable news programs, and McCain repeatedly cited Joe the Plumber in their third and final debate and continues to do so at campaign events.
McCain points to Wurzelbacher as an example of the middle-class worker who would be hurt economically by an Obama presidency, However, Wurzelbacher likely would fare better under Obama’s tax plan because it calls for no tax increase for working couples earning less than $250,000 a year — Wurzelbacher himself earns far less — and provides for a middle-class tax cut.
In a McCain rally at a flag store, Wurzelbacher said he feared that Obama would turn the U.S. into a socialist nation.
When a McCain supporter asked him if he believed “a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel,” Wurzelbacher replied, “I’ll go ahead and agree with you on that.” He didn’t elaborate on how Obama, who has said his commitment to Israeli security is “nonnegotiable,” would be detrimental for the Jewish state.
Secret Service, others investigate Palin effigy
Officials from the U.S. Secret Service, West Hollywood city code enforcement and the Los Angeles County Fire Department are investigating whether a Halloween display showing a likeness of Palin hanging by a noose violates any laws.
“The sheriff made this clear: This is a country that has freedom of speech and we protect that right even when we think it’s idiotic and stupid and in bad taste and wrong to do,” said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. “If it is nonviolent and doesn’t cause any problems, then they have the right to do it.”
Whitmore said the department has fielded more than 60 calls complaining about the offensiveness of the effigy, but because there were no state laws violated, officials could not order that the display be taken down.
The home’s decorations also feature a likeness of McCain surrounded by decorative flames in the chimney, and other more typical Halloween items, such as skeletons and spider webs.