SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama pushed his plans for middle-class economic relief in a Republican area of Missouri on Wednesday, and said White House rival John McCain was trying to scare voters about an Obama presidency.
“What they’re going to do is make you scared -- of me,” Obama told voters in Springfield, Missouri, in a conservative region of a key battleground state in November’s presidential election.
Obama, launching a four-day tour of swing states to promote his economic policies, mocked the arguments he said McCain, a Republican Arizona senator, and his supporters will make.
“‘He’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. He doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills,'” Obama said.
“That’s their argument. ‘We don’t have much to offer, but he’s risky,'” he said. “We are in a time right now where it is too risky not to change. It is risky to keep doing what we are doing.”
Obama’s comments came McCain launched a new ad likening the Illinois senator to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, implying he was a lightweight who could not deliver on his talk.
“I don’t pay attention to John McCain’s ads, although I do notice he doesn’t seem to have anything very positive to say about himself,” Obama told reporters after visiting a diner in Lebanon, Missouri.
“He seems to only be talking about me,” Obama said. “You need to ask John McCain what he’s for, not just what he’s against.”
Obama has pivoted to economic themes this week after returning from his trip to the Middle East and Europe, painting McCain as a follower of President George W. Bush’s “reckless” economic policies.
He criticized McCain’s support for extending Bush’s tax cuts as a gift to the wealthy, and he challenged McCain’s support for lifting the ban on offshore drilling and said it would not help U.S. consumers for years, if at all.
“If I thought that by drilling offshore we could solve our problem, I’d do it,” he said. “This is not real. I know it’s tempting, The polls say the majority of Americans think it’s one way we’ll resolve our problems, but it’s not real.”
The McCain campaign said Obama’s comments were “typically superfluous.”
“Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said. “In the face of an energy crisis, Barack Obama’s plans to raise taxes on energy and opposition to offshore drilling show that he fundamentally lacks judgment and experience, and is not ready to lead.”
The campaign swing took Obama on a day-long bus tour through conservative southwest and central Missouri, and then on to Iowa on Thursday and to central Florida for two days.
Campaign aides said Obama was taking aim at areas that past Democratic candidates have written off. All three events in Missouri are in districts represented in Congress by Republicans and won heavily by Bush in the 2004.
Obama was accompanied on the bus tour on Wednesday by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who pointedly attacked some of the prevailing questions about Obama’s faith, patriotism and attitude.
“They say that he is arrogant, that he’s unpatriotic, blah, blah, blah, blah,” McCaskill, a strong Obama supporter during the Democratic nomination process, told the enthusiastic Springfield crowd.
“Let me tell you, I know this man. He is humble, he is devoutly Christian, he loves his family more than anything else in the world, he reveres our men and women in uniform, and he is as red, white and blue as you can possibly get,” she said.
Obama, who likes to frequently mention Republican Vice President Dick Cheney was recently discovered to be a distant cousin, said it was a family legend that Old West lawman Wild Bill Hickok, famously killed in a poker game in what is now Deadwood, South Dakota, was also a distant relative.
He noted that Hickok once killed a man in a duel in the town square in Springfield.
“I don’t know if it’s true, but we’re going to research that, because I‘m going to duel John McCain on taxes,” Obama said. “My tax cut would benefit middle class families three times as much as John McCain‘s.”
Editing by David Wiessler