Obama starts to woo vot­ers across Florida; re­turns to a spir­ited rally

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Sean Lengell

TAMPA, Fla. — Sen. Barack Obama, set­ting foot in the na­tion’s big­gest bat­tle­ground state for his first cam­paign event since the fall, on May 21 of­fered an olive branch to Florida vot­ers whose Demo­cratic pri­mary re­sults still hang in the bal­ance and at­tacked pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Sen. John McCain.

Even though Mr. McCain en­joys strong sup­port in Florida, Mr. Obama has pulled ahead in na­tional track­ing polls. His ad­vance fur­ther de­flates his Demo­cratic ri­val’s ar­gu­ment that she is bet­ter po­si­tioned to beat the Repub­li­cans in the fall.

“It is good to be back. I know you’ve been hold­ing down the fort,” Mr. Obama told a bois­ter­ous crowd of about 15,000 at the St. Pete Times Fo­rum in down­town Tampa. The rally was his first pub­lic ap­pear­ance in Florida since Septem­ber, al­though he at­tended two fundrais­ers in Novem­ber.

“I am here to re­port that my debt has been paid off and my faith in the Amer­i­can peo­ple has been vin­di­cated be­cause ev­ery­where I go peo­ple are stand­ing up and say­ing we’re ready for change.”

Florida Democrats over­whelm­ingly fa­vored Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton in the state’s Jan. 29 con­test, but she hasn’t reaped the ben­e­fit as Mr. Obama has pulled within 64 del­e­gates from lay­ing claim to the party nom­i­na­tion with the June 3 pri­mary fin­ish line fast ap­proach­ing. Be­cause the state broke Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee rules by hold­ing its pri­mary too early, vot­ers will have to wait un­til May 31 to know whether their votes count.

Mr. Obama barely men­tioned Mrs. Clin­ton but said she “has run an out­stand­ing cam­paign and she de­serves our ad­mi­ra­tion and our re­spect.”

The sen­a­tor from New York has promised to fight through the next three con­tests: Puerto Rico, Mon­tana and South Dakota.

In a 40-minute speech that was in­ter­rupted sev­eral times by cheer­ing sup­port­ers, Mr. Obama fo­cused on de­flect­ing crit­i­cism from Mr. McCain, who has por­trayed the sen­a­tor from Illi­nois as too in­ex­pe­ri­enced to han­dle the job as pres­i­dent and com­man­der in chief.

“The other side isn’t try­ing to make this cam­paign about you; they’re try­ing to make it about me,” he said.

Mr. Obama re­peat­edly tried to link Mr. McCain with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, say­ing, “We have a chance in Novem­ber to bring an end to [Hur­ri­cane] Ka­t­rina in­com­pe­tence” and the “failed eco­nomic poli­cies of Ge­orge W. Bush.”

He also blasted Mr. McCain on the Iraq war and sky­rock­et­ing gaso­line prices and ac­cused the sen­a­tor from Ari­zona of hav­ing cozy re­la­tions with lob­by­ists, high­light­ing Mr. McCain’s pro­posal 10 years ago to bar lob­by­ists from work­ing on cam­paigns.

“John McCain then would be pretty dis­ap­pointed in John McCain now, be­cause he hired some of the big­gest lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton to run his cam­paign,” Mr. Obama said.

With Mr. McCain fundrais­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, cam­paign spokesman Tucker Bounds re­sponded: “De­spite his own rhetoric, Sen­a­tor Obama still re­fuses to dis­close the list of lob­by­ists ad­vis­ing his cam­paign. What is Sen­a­tor Obama hid­ing?

“We chal­lenge Sen­a­tor Obama to meet our stan­dard” for keep­ing lob­by­ists out of the cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion, Mr. Bounds added.

In ad­di­tion to tak­ing an eight-point lead in a Reuters news agency poll by John Zogby, Mr. Obama con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the fundrais­ing game.

De­spite a record haul of nearly $18 mil­lion last month by the McCain cam­paign, the Obama cam­paign took in $31.3 mil­lion in April, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports filed last week.

By con­trast, Mrs. Clin­ton raised $21 mil­lion but re­ported $19.4 mil­lion in debts.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cam­paign Fi­nance In­sti­tute, Mrs. Clin­ton’s debts in­clude $10 mil­lion in loans that she made to the cam­paign.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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