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Monday, October 27, 2008

In the West, Obama back on trail

McCain downplays smaller audiences LAS VEGAS — Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain on Saturday hop-scotched across relatively small but potentially crucial Western battleground states before crowds starkly different in their size and enthusiasm.

It was Obama's first day back on the campaign trail after returning from a 22-hour stop in Hawaii where he visited his gravely ill grandmother. Although perhaps tired, he appeared eager to re-engage McCain.

"They've been throwing everything at us, including the kitchen sink — all seven of those kitchen sinks," Obama said, a reference to McCain's multiple homes. "He's called me a socialist for suggesting that we focus on tax cuts for the middle class instead of the wealthy."

Speaking to a crowd here that his campaign said totaled 18, 000, the Illinois senator said McCain had taken his attacks to a "whole new level" by comparing the Democrat to President George W. Bush.

"Loco," Obama said, using the Spanish word for crazy, as he spoke at a high school.

During a sparsely attended rally in Albuquerque, McCain appealed to his Western neighbors for support and warned against having Congress and the White House controlled by Democrats.

"I am proud to be a senator from the West," he said, adding that Obama had "never been south of our border" and does not understand border or Western issues.

Despite clear skies and comfortable temperatures, it was a small turnout—one that could be measured in the hundreds—for a presidential campaign event this close to the election. An Obama event at the University of New Mexico later in the day drew what his campaign estimated was at least 45,000 people.

A second McCain rally in tiny Mesilla, N.M., appeared to draw several thousand in what is a more conservative area along the Mexican border.

McCain also suggested Obama has become overconfident and has already written his inaugural address.

"When I pull this thing off, I have a request for my opponent: I want him to save that manuscript of that inaugural address and donate it to the Smithsonian, and they can put it right next to the Chicago paper that says Dewey defeats Truman," he said, a reference to the Chicago Tribune's famously incorrect 1948 headline.

That prompted a critical response from the Obama campaign.

"There is no draft of an inaugural address for Sen. Obama," spokesman Bill Burton said. "The last thing we need is a candidate like John McCain who just plans on re-reading George Bush's."

McCain's campaign, meanwhile, downplayed the importance of crowds.

"If campaigns were won or lost based on crowd size, Barack Obama's crowd of 200,000 in Berlin would've made him chancellor of Germany," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded.

Mark Salter, a senior McCain adviser, said 1,400 people went through security to get to the Albuquerque event. And he said it costs a lot of money to build large crowds — money the McCain campaign doesn't have.

With just nine days before the election, McCain's campaign also plans to step up its attacks against Obama in regard to his connections to Tony Rezko, the convicted Chicago developer who was an early Obama patron. A senior campaign official said the campaign will send direct mail, run TV ads and make automated phone calls about his relationship with Rezko and their controversial land transaction next to Obama's home in the Kenwood neighborhood.

McCain, meanwhile, seized on remarks by Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, about the possibility an international crisis if the junior senator is elected, as the world tests him, just as John F. Kennedy was tested by the Cuban missile crisis.

"They may want to test Sen. Obama. I've been tested," McCain said. "I'm going to test them. They're not going to test me. The next president won't have time to get used to the office."

At an earlier stop at the University of Nevada-Reno, Obama was interrupted for about 3 minutes when a circuit breaker blew mid-sentence as he spoke to a crowd his campaign said totaled 11,000 inside a baseball park.

"I told you folks are having trouble making their electricity bills," Obama said when the power was back on.

Obama also mentioned Bush's early vote for McCain on Friday. "There's not an inch of daylight between George Bush and John McCain," he said.

The Democrat said McCain's efforts to distance himself from the president are disingenuous because he has voted with Bush 90 percent of the time in the past eight years. "That's right, he decided to really stick it to George Bush — 10 percent of the time," Obama said.

Obama also thanked his supporters for the kindness that has been extended to his dying grandmother.

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