Battle Creek –
The Democratic nominees for president and vice president visited southwest Michigan Sunday evening and were greeted by an estimated crowd of 18,000.
Sen. Barack Obama, who is the first African-American to earn the nomination for the presidency from a major party, was joined here by Sen. Joe Biden, who is his vice presidential selection. The two men have been on the road since Obama accepted the Democratic nomination last week in Denver, and they are targeting Michigan hard. The two went from a town hall meeting in Toledo, to the rally in Battle Creek, then backtracked to Detroit so that Obama could address the annual Labor Day events there, followed by appearances downriver.
The two did not disappoint the crowd, which had been standing in line since early Sunday morning where 90-degree heat and a blazing sun beat down on them.
Standing on a stage set up on the pitcher’s mound of this minor league stadium, Biden fired one of the first political salvos of the night.
“Folks, if I walked out of this ballpark, down Michigan and back, I bet I wouldn’t run into a single person who thought our economy was strong today, unless I bumped into John McCain,” Biden said.
Sen. John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, who has, as recently as Aug. 20, said the economy is doing well. The Obama campaign and Democrats have said that McCain’s comments have shown that the Arizona Senator is out of touch.
Michigan is a key battleground state, and polls show Obama and McCain in a tight race here. But with an unemployment rate topping 8.5 percent and a struggling automotive industry that drives its economy, Michigan was a key target audience for Obama’s message of change and focusing on domestic issues.
Obama followed Biden and told the audience he would spend $150 billion over the next decade to assist Detroit automakers to create new electric car and hybrid technologies, and retool to create them. He also said he would work to create fair trade policies which would allow American made vehicles to be sold in similar quantities in other countries – such as South Korea – as those country’s vehicles are sold here in the U.S.
During his 25-minute speech, Obama also directly addressed commercials the McCain camp has been running in the state which allege Obama will raise taxes if he is elected.
“Don’t believe those ads you see saying I’ll raise taxes, because your taxes will go down,” Obama said. He then said McCain was a twin to President George W. Bush, and claimed the Arizona Republican had supported Bush’s policies 90 percent of the time.
Obama also addressed foreign policy. “I’m tired of tough talk and dumb actions,” he said of the Republican’s foreign policy decisions. “I am ready to debate John McCain on that.”
On Palin Pick
Michigan residents waiting to hear Obama speak were uneasy with the announcement of Gov. Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain’s choice for his number two spot on the Republican ticket.
Pam Schuster, 50, from Jackson, was outspoken in her opposition to Palin. “Sen. McCain was pandering to women,” she said. “(The choice of Palin) was a slap in the face of women… she has no qualifications.”
Schuster said Palin’s evangelical roots appear to be a core reason for her elevation and Schuster said that might help McCain get that constituency to hit the polls in November. Specifically, Schuster said Palin’s strong pro-life stance – she does not believe in abortion in any situation, including rape and incest cases – would hurt McCain with the mainstream voters.
“She’s going to get the evangelical vote, but hopefully everyone else will look beyond a single issue,” Schuster said.
Frank and Ruthie Ceja of East Lansing said they have known Obama for years, having helped him raise money for his state senate race in Illinois.
“We’re big fans,” Ruthie, 39, said.
As for Palin, both said they were leary of the choice.
“He (Sen. McCain) was showboating,” Frank, 38, said.
“I think she is a good pull for the public,” Ruthie said. “But I don’t think it will be enough to swing this to a Republican vote.”
“I think there is a strong chance this will hurt the McCain campaign,” Frank said of Palin’s stance on certain issues. “People are looking for change.”
Brent Colburn, the Obama spokesperson for Michigan, also called the choice of Palin into question. Colburn noted that McCain has questioned Obama’s qualifications to hold the office of president.
“Either Sen. McCain was being disingenuous in his criticisms of Sen. Obama, or he is not being straight with the American people,” Colburn said.