White House ’08: Obama makes case in Roanoke
The Top Story by Chris Graham
Barack Obama had two words Friday for supporters who want to think that he has the ’08 presidential election sewn up. “New Hampshire.”
“We were up 10 in the polls the day before the election, and we ended up losing. We were up in Texas and Ohio, we ended up losing. So you can’t pay attention to the polls,” Obama told a raucous crowd of 10,000 Virginia Democrats at the Roanoke Civic Center whose hard work has made it possible for the Democratic Party presidential nominee to be a cautious frontrunner heading into the final two weeks of the campaign season.
“With your hard work, with your passion, with your determination, with your commitment, two weeks from Tuesday, something is going to happen in Virginia that has not happened since 1964,” Ninth District Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher had said earlier, referencing how long it has been since Virginia last cast its Electoral College lot with a Democratic presidential candidate, for Lyndon Johnson in landslide win in ’64 over Republican Barry Goldwater. Recent polling has Obama ahead of GOP nominee John McCain by as much as 12 points in the Old Dominion, and doing surprisingly well in Western Virginia. A Survey USA poll released last week had Obama and McCain in a virtual dead heat in Western Virginia a month after McCain had enjoyed a healthy 24-point lead in the mountains. If that trend continues, Virginia Tech political-science professor Bob Denton feels that the talk that Virginia will go blue on Election Day will be right on.
“The Obama campaign is targeting 45 percent here in Southside and Southwest Virginia. They feel that if they can get 45 percent of the vote here, and then get 60 percent of the vote in Northern Virginia and 55 percent in the Hampton Roads, that’s their key to victory. That was the victory for Kaine, that was the victory for Webb. And they’re trying to use that as their same target,” said Denton, who also pointed to projections of increased voter turnout among African-Americans in Virginia as another positive sign for Obama and Democrats heading into the campaign’s final days.
And that’s why Obama was back in Virginia on Friday trying to solidify his standing in a state whose shift in political allegiances could spell doom for Republicans on Nov. 4. “Without question, Barack Obama can lose Virginia and still become president. It’s hard to see how McCain, if he loses Virginia, it’s almost done for him,” Denton said.
Obama addressed the Civic Center rally for 40 minutes on issues ranging from health care to Iraq to the economic foundation of American society. “For households across the country, it’s getting harder to get loans for that new car or that startup business or that college education that you need. Wages are lower than they’ve been in a decade. You’re paying more for everything from gas to groceries while your paychecks have flatlined. So, Roanoke, I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried. But I am convinced that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis,” said Obama, drawing a sharp contrast between his bottom-up approach and the top-down approach advocated by McCain, who is pushing for the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that were championed by President Bush early in his first term in office.
“At the debate this week, Sen. McCain felt the need to inform me that he’s not President Bush. Now, in fairness, Sen. McCain doesn’t look like President Bush. He doesn’t have a Texas accent like President Bush. And I don’t blame Sen. McCain for all of President Bush’s mistakes. After all, he’s only voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time,” Obama said. “It is fair to say that over the course of three debates and 20 months and over the last eight years, Sen. McCain still has not offered a single thing that he would do differently from George W. Bush when it comes to the most important economic issues that we face today. Not one,” Obama said.
Obama talked up his proposed tax credits for new jobs created in the United States in the next two years and his idea for eliminating capital-gains taxes on investments in small businesses and startup companies that he said would push small-business development. “John McCain wants to keep the tax cuts for corporations that want to ship your jobs overseas, just like George Bush. I want to give tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in America. John McCain wants to give tax cuts to Exxon-Mobil and other big corporations and their CEOs that we just can’t afford, just like George Bush. I want to give a break to 95 percent of middle-class America. I want to give tax breaks to small businesses that create more than two-thirds of our jobs. That’s how we’ll strengthen our economy. That’s how we’ll grow our economy again, from the bottom up,” Obama said.
“Bottom-up growth depends on a tax code that doesn’t just work for those folks at the top. You’ve heard a lot about taxes in this campaign, but here’s the truth. My opponent and I are both offering tax cuts. The difference is he wants to double down on the Bush tax policy by giving $200 billion in tax cuts to the biggest corporations in America, giving the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut, but he gives nothing at all to over 100 million Americans. I’ve got a different set of priorities. I give middle-class Americans a tax cut – 95 percent of all workers. And if you make less than $250,000 a year – how many of you make less than $250,000 a year? If you make less than $250,000 a year, a quarter-million dollars a year, which includes 98 percent of small-business owners, you won’t see your taxes increase one single dime, not your payroll tax, not your income tax, not your gas tax, no tax. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class,” Obama said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., served up the red meat for the partisan gathering, questioning whether McCain, a friend for 30 years, is “the right person to lead this country” based on his economic and foreign-policy positions and his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to serve as his running mate. “Do you really think that Sarah Palin is the most qualified person in the Republican Party? I don’t know how many people here like country music. I like country music. There was a song about two years ago, ‘I Know What I Was Feeling, But What Was I Thinking?’ Think John McCain is probably singing that song right now?” Webb said.
“I know what it’s like to be involved in a Karl Rove campaign, and it’s not fun, folks,” said Webb, referring to his own contentious run for the Senate in ’06 against conservative Republican George Allen. “The last several months, we have seen that same kind of campaign conducted against Barack Obama. What they do is they say, That person is not like you, that person doesn’t understand you, you can’t trust them,” said Webb, who told those in attendance that Obama “is like you. He knows what it’s like to struggle,” in a nod to Obama’s humble background, with a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas who raised him as a single mother. And, Webb said, Obama knows Southwest Virginia well, too, having made his first appearance after securing the Democratic nomination in June in Western Virginia, with Friday’s visit marking his seventh to the region in the general-election campaign.
“And you can trust him,” said Webb, “and I’m a fairly skeptical person, and when I can say I trust somebody, I mean it, and I trust Barack Obama, and you should trust Barack Obama.”
And if you’re trusting Obama, you’re right there with him that it’s not over ’til it’s over, no matter what the polls say. “We’ve got to keep making our case for change. We’ve got to keep fighting for every vote. We’ve got to keep running to the finish. This election is too important. We can’t take anything for granted,” Obama said. History will judge how America responds to its current challenges, Obama said. “Will they say this is the time when America lost its nerve, lost its way, lost its purpose? Will we allow our own petty differences, our broken politics, to run this country into a deeper recession? Or will they that this was another one of those moments when America overcame, when we saw our common purpose, when we recognized the common stake that we have in each other? This is one of those moments,” Obama said.