Politics & Government

Obama floods the airwaves with prime-time TV sales pitch

Sen. John McCain speaks to a crowd at a "Joe the Plumber" event during a campaign stop in Miami, Florida.
Sen. John McCain speaks to a crowd at a "Joe the Plumber" event during a campaign stop in Miami, Florida. Peter Andrew Bosch / Miami Herald / MCT

SUNRISE, Fla. — Barack Obama, presenting himself as the leader of ordinary Americans struggling to cope with the faltering economy, Wednesday used a half-hour prime-time TV pitch to gently insist that his blueprint for change doesn't make government bigger but "grows the economy and keeps people on the job."

The program, aired on seven television networks, including CBS, NBC and Fox, was an effort to paint the Democratic nominee as a caring candidate in touch with ordinary Americans.

It started with brightly lit scenes of farm fields, featured Obama speaking in a setting that closely resembled the Oval Office, and ended with live shots of the Illinois senator getting lofty as he addressed a crowd of 20,000 in Sunrise.

"America," he said, "the time for change has come."

Republican rival John McCain scoffed at the show.

"When you're watching this gauzy, feel-good commercial," he told a Riviera Beach, Fla., audience, "just remember that it was paid for with broken promises."

Among them, he said, was an Obama pledge to accept public financing in the general election. McCain, like every major presidential candidate since the system was first used in 1976, is taking public money, but Obama isn't. Instead, Obama raised record private donations.

Obama has countered that he said last year that if nominated, "I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." Public finance does remain in place, and Obama simply chose not to use it.

Remember, McCain said Wednesday, that Obama's "word doesn't appear to mean that much. When he tells America tonight that he's going to cut taxes for the middle class, people wonder if he'll keep his word because his record is supporting higher taxes on working families."

McCain kept firing away later Wednesday evening on CNN's "Larry King Live," insisting that "Senator Obama hasn't told the American people the truth.�So therefore he now is able to buy these half hour infomercials and, frankly, is going to try to convince the American people through his rhetoric what his record shows that he's not."

Obama has backed higher taxes for wealthier taxpayers, and his current plan would restore higher, pre-2001 tax rates for individuals earning more than $200,000 and families making over $250,000. Others would get a tax cut or no tax increase.

In his TV commercial, Obama detailed his tax program, as well as his plans to end the war in Iraq, promote energy efficiency and revamp the nation's health care system. He talked straight to the camera at some points and used highlights from speeches in others.

The show tried to build his credibility by parading a wide array of Democratic officeholders before the camera to praise the nominee, including governors and Senate colleagues. It gave him a common touch through stories of people such as Mark Dowell, a Louisville, Ky., auto worker whose hours have been cut, and Juliana Sanchez, an Albuquerque, N.M., "widow with two children and a mortgage" trying to stay financially afloat.

The soothing tone of the program was a sharp contrast to the sharp criticism of the campaign trail earlier in the day.

McCain began blasting away at Obama hours before, when the Arizona senator tried to create controversy about his presidential rival's connections to a Palestinian scholar who's a critic of Israel and compared Obama to George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.

Obama aides accused McCain of hypocrisy. They noted that the International Republican Institute, which McCain has long chaired, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Palestinian research organization in the 1990s that the same scholar, Rashid Khalidi, helped found.

Asked about Obama's plans to raise taxes on the wealthy and give families earning less than $200,000 a tax cut, McCain said, "I won't call him a socialist. It doesn't matter what we call him. The point is, what he wants to do. And that has been tried before. That's what George McGovern wanted to do, that's what Jimmy Carter did, and we're not going to do it."

Obama didn't address the controversy directly at a midday rally in North Carolina. But he told voters that by week's end McCain will "be accusing me of being a secret Communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."

Obama also was to make a taped appearance later Wednesday on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," and at an 11 p.m. rally in Orlando, Fla., with former President Bill Clinton.


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