Both major presidential candidates campaign today in Florida -- perhaps the most swing of swing states.
Democrat Barack Obama continued his focus on the economy in a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg. He argued that the Bush administration has been ignoring Main Street while focusing on Wall Street -- and that Republican John McCain would continue those failed policies.
He posed a version of the famous political question: "Do you think that you are better off now than you were four years ago or eight years ago? And if you don't think you're better off, do you think you can afford another four years of the same failed economic policies that we've had under George W. Bush? Can’t afford it.”
And responding to the latest dour jobs report, Obama unveiled an emergency plan.
“Today, we learned that 51,000 jobs were lost last month, the seventh straight month of job loss – now totaling 463,00 jobs lost since the beginning of this year," he said in a statement. "I’ve already called for an economic stimulus package on two different occasions this year, and much of what I’ve proposed has passed in Congress. These efforts have made some difference. But with job losses mounting, prices rising, increased turbulence in our financial system, and a growing credit crunch, we need to do more.”
Obama is proposing taxing windfall profits from oil companies to give families a $1,000 energy rebate that would cover higher gas prices or could be used to pay higher heating oil prices this winter.
He is also proposing a second stimulus package -- $50 billion, half to go to budget-strapped state governments and the other half to pay for infrastructure, including replenishing the trust fund that finances bridge and road repairs.
Obama was interrupted by three men who stood up on the bleachers behind the stage with a banner asking, "What about the black community, Obama?"
In a later question-and-answer session, one of the men complained that Obama had not spoken out forcefully enough on the impact of predatory lending and its impact on the black community, Hurricane Katrina's destruction, and the fatal shooting of an unarmed man on his wedding day in New York.
Obama defended himself, saying he had spoken out on issues and citing his record as a community organizer and lawmaker. He also urged the men and the crowd to be respectful, and said America needed to unite to solve its problems.
McCain, meanwhile, spoke to the National Urban League in Orlando -- a day after he accused Obama of playing the "race card" in the campaign by saying that Republicans are trying to scare voters by saying he doesn't look like the presidents on US currency.
Obama's campaign has denied the assertion, and the Congressional Black Caucus and others have criticized McCain for making it.
As he did before the NAACP last month, McCain before the urban league highlighted his support for education reforms to give inner-city parents more choice, including vouchers, so they can avoid troubled public schools -- and hit Obama for being too tied to teacher unions.
Calling reform "the civil rights issue of the 21st century," McCain announced his support for the Education Equality Project, a bipartisan effort by officials including New York school Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to remake public education.
"My opponent talks a great deal about hope and change; education is as good a test as any of his seriousness," McCain said. "The Education Equality Project is a practical plan for delivering change and restoring hope for children and parents who today need a lot of both. And if Senator Obama continues to defer to the teachers unions, instead of committing to real reform, then he should start looking for new slogans."
McCain also focused on his energy proposals.
"To get our economy running at full strength again, we need to stay focused on creating jobs for our people, and protecting paychecks from the rising costs of food, gasoline, and most everything else," he said in prepared remarks. "Above all, we need to get a handle on the cost of oil and gasoline, and to regain energy independence for America."
McCain also criticized Obama's economic plans, saying any tax increases would be the worst thing for the struggling economy. "The higher taxes that Barack Obama supports are one of the surest ways to kill jobs and exactly the wrong approach to a slowing economy. While American jobs and families suffer from high gas prices, Barack Obama stubbornly opposes additional oil drilling, more nuclear power, and the gas tax relief we need," spokesman Taylor Griffin added in a statement.
A Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday showed Obama with a 46 percent to 44 percent lead over McCain in Florida, basically a statistical tie.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.