Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will be a mile high Thursday night when he addresses tens of thousands of Democratic Party faithful in Denver. After the convention, though, he and running mate Sen. Joseph Biden could face a tougher audience.
The Democratic duo is planning a joint bus trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan: three battleground states where Obama did not fare well in the primaries.
They will be stressing bread-and-butter economics, as they have in Denver. Pennsylvania, for instance, is home to many blue-collar workers who are not yet sold on Obama's platform. That's one reason that Biden was chosen — to help balance the ticket — and Biden, the son of a Scranton car dealer, wasted no time at the convention telling working-class Democrats that he is one of them.
"I am here for everyone I grew up with in Scranton and Wilmington," he said. "I'm here for the cops and the firefighters, the teachers and the assembly-line workers — the folks whose lives are the very measure of whether the American dream endures."
Biden stressed that Obama had also worked his way up. Raised by a single mother, Obama passed up a lucrative career on Wall Street to work instead as a community organizer and later a state senator.
"And because Barack Obama made that choice, working families in Illinois pay less taxes, and more people have moved from welfare to the dignity of work, and he got it done," Biden said.
Democrats are counting on those biographical details to make a connection with blue-collar voters that Obama's policy prescriptions have not yet made.
The Debate Over Taxes
Obama has promised not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $200,000 a year. But Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is still running ads claiming he is the watchdog of the working-class wallet.
"If elected president, Obama's promises would mean even more taxes, painful taxes, when times are tough enough," one McCain ad goes.
According to the Tax Policy Center in Washington D.C., 80 percent of American families would do better under Obama's tax plan. Only the wealthiest 20 percent would pad their pocketbooks more under McCain's proposal. Nevertheless, McCain told an audience last month in Racine, Wis., that the benefits of his tax cuts would, in effect, trickle down.
"I'm going to keep current tax rates low and cut others — not because I want to make the rich richer — but because it keeps jobs in America and creates new ones," McCain said.
Obama's campaign has tried to counter that argument with a little history. Obama adviser Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute notes that the U.S. added 22 million jobs while Bill Clinton was president and tax rates were similar to those that Obama has proposed. That is almost four times as many jobs as were added during the tax-cutting tenure of President George W. Bush. Bernstein calls job growth under the current president the worst record since 1939.
Democrats Paint McCain As Bush On The Economy
Democrats insist McCain would merely extend President Bush's lackluster economic record. But the charge hasn't necessarily stuck. McCain is running close behind Obama in Pennsylvania and slightly ahead in Ohio, according to the recent polls. The Arizona senator's tax-cutting promise is a simpler sell than Obama's more nuanced policy. McCain has also hit a nerve with his newfound energy prescription: "Drill Here, Drill Now" about offshore oil drilling.
Montana's Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer tried to shatter McCain's drill bit at the convention this week, while poking fun at the senator's inability to remember how many houses he owns.
"If you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain's backyards, even the ones he doesn't know he has, that single answer proposition is a dry well," Schweitzer said.
McCain's gaffe about his seven houses — similar to his comment that being rich means having at least $5 million — could provide the kind of useful bumper-sticker shorthand that Democrats have been looking for as they reach beyond the Obama fans at Mile High Stadium and try to win over skeptical, working-class voters who live a lot closer to the ground.