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September 20, 2014

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winning the west:

As Democrats fret, Obama gets more direct

After friendly critics weigh in, Obama zings rival on tax plan Democrat says helps the rich

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Leila Navidi

Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with the crowd after a town hall meeting at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque

Albuquerque Ladies' Man

Barack Obama answers questions from a group of Albuquerque women. Topics range from health care, to immigration, to the Iraq war. (4:50)

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Rio Grande High School students, from left, Tiana Clovis, 17; Estephania Loya, 17; and Olivia Legarda, 15, talk about being in the audience as Sen. Barack Obama spoke Monday at the predominantly Hispanic school in Albuquerque.

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Democrats are anxious these days.

Since Sen. Barack Obama returned from a trip to the Middle East and Europe, he has slipped slightly in the polls and his main opponent, Sen. John McCain, has driven the race onto ground friendlier to the Republican.

McCain has accused Obama of being a substance-free celebrity willing to sell out his country for a political campaign. McCain has attacked Obama for using race as a political tool.

One battleground-state Democrat said this: “I particularly hope he strengthens his economic message — even Sen. Obama can speak more clearly and specifically about the kitchen-table, bread-and-butter issues like high energy costs,” Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told The New York Times recently.

Times columnist Paul Krugman disagreed, saying Obama’s Web site is thick with policy detail: “No, the problem isn’t lack of specifics — it’s lack of passion. When it comes to the economy, Mr. Obama’s campaign seems oddly lethargic.”

Meanwhile, McCain continues to use the kind of rhetoric that, if not giving him a lead in the polls, has at least garnered attention: “Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure,” he told a veterans group Monday, using a phrase identical to one he used recently in Las Vegas.

Democrats fret that Obama hasn’t responded forcefully — and in kind — to this type of rhetoric. The widely read blogger Josh Marshall represents this thinking, writing Monday: “The lack of any consistent lines of attack against McCain is becoming palpable.”

Either Obama got the message, and is getting a little anxious himself, or his campaign, always known for having an impressive feel for pacing, has decided it’s time. The campaign, now 19 months old, is upon us: The Democratic National Convention begins next week, and Obama is expected to announce his vice presidential nominee this week.

At a rally at a heavily Hispanic high school on the edge of the city here, Obama drove home economic issues, dropping his usual cool pose for more passion and a hard-edged mockery of McCain.

Obama capitalized on an awkward McCain moment, when the Republican was asked what constitutes “rich.” McCain said $5 million.

“This explains why his tax plan gives (money in tax breaks) to people making 2 1/2 million dollars,” Obama said Monday. “I guess that’s middle class. Everyone here making

2 1/2 million dollars, raise your hands.”

Obama then capitalized on another McCain gaffe, though this time by McCain’s former economic adviser Phil Gramm, the former senator from Texas who said America is experiencing a “mental recession” and that the country is filled with “whiners.”

“He’s got major economic advisers calling you whiners,” Obama said. “This guy obviously doesn’t pump his own gas, do his own shopping or pay his own bills.”

At the rally Obama also responded to the Strickland criticism with a laundry list of specific policies. The Illinois Democrat promised to achieve universal health care in his first term, provide a middle-class tax cut, spend $10 billion a year on renewable energy technologies, expand family and medical leave and early childhood education, overhaul the No Child Left Behind education law and give a $4,000 college tax credit for anyone willing to do community service afterward.

He would pay for it with an upper-income tax hike and with savings from withdrawing troops from Iraq in 16 months. Economists say those measures wouldn’t pay for all his proposed programs, however.

Obama closed by trying to ease nerves among the faithful: “Democrats haven’t been that successful in presidential elections lately,” he said. “So everywhere I go people tell me, ‘I’m getting nervous.’

“They say Republicans are so mean ...

“I’m here to tell you now it’s not gonna work this time.”

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