McCain, Obama Make Populist Appeals in Swing States (Update1)

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) — Barack Obama and John McCain ratcheted up their populist appeals to working-class voters as they campaigned in two battleground states where voting already is under way.

McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, kicked off a bus tour of Florida hitting Obama on national security and taxes, using the image of “Joe the Plumber” repeatedly to make his points on the economy. Democrat Obama told a crowd in Indiana that McCain would favor big businesses and carry on the policies of President George W. Bush.

“Whether it’s Joe the Plumber in Ohio, or Joe over here, thank you Joe, there are Joes all over here,” McCain said yesterday in Ormond Beach, Florida, “we shouldn’t be taxing our small businesses more, as Senator Obama wants to do.”

Obama acknowledged the union members in his Indianapolis crowd, saying he would protect their interests and accusing McCain of “putting corporations ahead of workers.”

“While Senator McCain says now that he’s different from George Bush, you sure couldn’t tell by the policies he’s proposing,” Obama said.

Florida and Indiana, with a total of 38 electoral votes, are two states that Obama has targeted to flip to the Democratic column on Nov. 4. Indiana hasn’t gone to a Democratic candidate since 1964 and Florida has been won by the Republican candidate in eight of the last 10 elections. Polls in both states show McCain and Obama in a close race.

Early Voting

They also are two of 31 states that allow early voting. As many as one-third of all voters throughout the country will cast their ballot before Nov. 4, up from 20 percent in 2004, according to Paul Gronke, head of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Obama is taking two days off from campaigning to visit his ailing 85-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him in Hawaii. He landed in Honolulu last night and was driven directly to the apartment complex where Dunham lives. He is scheduled to return to the mainland tomorrow night.

“I’m still not sure whether she makes it to Election Day,” Obama said in an interview with ABC news before he left. “One of the things I wanted to make sure of is that I had a chance to sit down with her and talk to her.”

Both candidates plan to head West. McCain is in Colorado today and will be in New Mexico tomorrow. Bush won the two states and their combined 14 electoral votes in 2004, though polls show Obama leading McCain in both. Obama will hit Colorado after returning from Hawaii.

Economic Concerns

The slumping U.S. economy is dominating the final days of the presidential campaign. In the wake of bank failures, falling housing prices and rising unemployment, White House press secretary Dana Perino said yesterday that the nation is “in for a rough ride” over the next two quarters.

Both candidates argued that their proposals would fix the ailing economy and their opponent’s plans would worsen it.

Obama is “more concerned about using taxes to spread the wealth than creating a tax plan that creates jobs and grows our economy,” McCain, an Arizona senator, said at the first stop of an east-west bus tour across Florida’s Interstate 4 corridor accompanied by Governor Charlie Crist and Senator Mel Martinez.

“Senator Obama says he’s going to soak the rich but it’s the middle class who are going to get wet,” he said at an event in Sarasota last night.

McCain also continued to distance himself from the president he seeks to replace. “We can’t spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight, hoping for our luck to change,” he said in Ormond Beach.

Homes and Jobs

Touting his plan to refinance troubled mortgages, McCain also criticized the current Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, for not buying up bad mortgages to keep homeowners from foreclosing. “Why isn’t the secretary of the Treasury ordering them to do that?” he said.

Obama noted that Indiana lost 4,500 manufacturing jobs in September and that Labor Department figures showed the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 15,000 to a larger-than-forecast 478,000 last week.

“John McCain and I have real differences about how to get us out of this economic mess,” the Illinois senator said. “If Senator McCain wants to defend tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, that’s his choice, but I say let’s end tax cuts for companies that shift jobs overseas.”

McCain advocates extending the tax cuts passed under Bush, which are set to expire at the end of 2010. He also favors cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.

Obama says he would reduce taxes for families making less than $250,000 a year. Rates for households with taxable incomes of more than $250,000 would return to levels in the 1990s, going to 36 percent and 39.6 percent from the current 33 percent. His top economic adviser, Jason Furman, has said Obama would support a corporate tax cut if it is paid for by closing corporate loopholes.

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