Rust Belt tour next focus for Democrats

PITTSBURGH — Democratic running mates Barack Obama and Joe Biden embarked on a Rust Belt bus tour Friday that aimed to capitalize on a convention that appeared to ease party tensions and ended with Obama’s historic and widely acclaimed acceptance speech before a record national audience.

But some of the Democrats’ momentum quickly disappeared Friday morning, when the campaign was caught off guard by the announcement of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain that he had selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. A spokesman released a harsh initial statement about Palin that Obama later backed away from.

“I haven’t met her before,” Obama said at a biodiesel plant in Monaca, Pa. Nor had Biden, who will debate Palin in St. Louis on Oct. 8. Later Friday afternoon, Obama spoke to Palin by telephone and wished her luck — though not too much luck — in the race. Biden also called Palin, and the two shared tales of the lengthy and secretive processes that led to their selections, aides to Biden said.

The Democratic team will spend Labor Day weekend on a caravan through the critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, where the candidates will court working-class voters, whom Obama has struggled to attract. Biden, a native of Scranton, Pa., with a lunch-pail pedigree, is expected to bolster Obama’s credentials among this critical demographic, as well as with senior citizens.

Today, Obama and Biden will attend the funeral of Ohio’s Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died suddenly Aug. 20. The senators will make stops in Dublin and Toledo, Ohio, and in Battle Creek, Mich. On Labor Day, Obama will march in a Detroit parade with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, before speaking to an audience of union organizers who plan to mobilize for the Democrat.

Obama’s acceptance speech at Denver’s Invesco Field on Thursday night drew more than 38 million viewers, more than the opening ceremony of the Olympics and the most ever for a convention address.

The speech included policy proposals aimed at lowering living costs and creating jobs for those struggling in the nation’s troubled economy. The convention also appeared to achieve the goal of pulling the party together, after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton made forceful appeals on Obama’s behalf. By Thursday night, when more than 80,000 people packed the Denver Broncos’ football stadium to hear Obama speak, tensions with the Clintons appeared to have been largely defused.

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