Dems focus on middle-class, economy

DENVER -- In dissecting the numbers underlying the 2008 presidential race, Democrats are looking at a set of indicators that, come Nov. 4, might be just as important as any poll: gas prices, housing foreclosures, unemployment and health care costs.

DENVER -- In dissecting the numbers underlying the 2008 presidential race, Democrats are looking at a set of indicators that, come Nov. 4, might be just as important as any poll: gas prices, housing foreclosures, unemployment and health care costs.

Indeed, amid persistent concerns about a possible recession, many believe the economic numbers might drive the election results.

Thus, the convention message on Tuesday was aimed squarely at the middle class, from the keynote speaker, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, on down the podium list to Gov. Jim Doyle, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison and others.

The pitch: Barack Obama will cut taxes for the middle class, improve health care, expand the economy and focus the country on green jobs and alternative fuels.

And John McCain, well, he's concerned only about big bucks, big oil and big business and will extend the big mess created by eight years of President Bush.


Warner, filling the keynote role Obama had four years ago, framed the election as "a race for the future."

"There is no nation that we can't out-hustle and out-compete," he said. "And no American need be left out or left behind."

Warner labeled McCain, a longtime U.S. senator from Arizona, as "stuck in the past" and wedded to the failed policies of Bush.

But there were concerns among some Democrats that Obama still is not connecting deeply enough with the blue-collar voters who largely eluded him in the primary contest against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And others warn that the McCain tax-cut message might be a potent one.

"Any Wisconsin political observer would be lying to you if they didn't admit cutting taxes has been a powerful, motivating issue in Wisconsin," said Democratic strategist Mike Tate. "And it always will be."

But he and others noted that the 2008 election might present a different dynamic if Democrats can get voters to look at the past eight years -- and to identify McCain as "Bush: The Sequel."

"We've had eight years of their approach," Tate said. "Where has it gotten us? Gas at $4 a gallon, high prices for health care, runaway inflation, this horrible economy."


The McCain campaign has continued to hammer Obama in Wisconsin and elsewhere as a tax-raiser, and for opposing a McCain-backed gas-tax holiday and not embracing offshore drilling for oil.

"Barack Obama is clearly out of touch with the needs of American families," said McCain spokeswoman Leah Yoon.

Democrats countered that McCain, who has acknowledged the economy is not his strong suit, is the one who lost track of how many houses he owns and recently suggested that the threshold for being rich is $5 million in income.

In an interview, Doyle argued that though most families "are feeling the squeeze," McCain would "make sure rich people continue to get these huge tax breaks."

On this much, both sides agree: The voters are restless.

Tapping oil woes

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she explained it to voters this way: Eight years divided by two "oil men" in the White House equals $4 a gallon gas.

"I think tapping into that anger (among voters) will be very important," Klobuchar said at a forum sponsored by the AFL-CIO. "But doing it with solutions."


Yet that can be a tricky challenge, particularly if stoking anxieties undermines the brand Obama has worked to create: Change. Hope. A new kind of politics.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, saying her state was the first to be hit by the economic downturn, acknowledged the paradox.

Her view: Instead of continuing the "race to the bottom," Democrats should push for a "race to the top" by advocating investments in new energy and new jobs.

She pointed to a set of numbers not often discussed on the campaign trail: "There are 8.5 million people we know of who are unemployed. And there are less than 4 million available jobs."

But that sort of message can be hard to distill, especially when matched in a 30-second ad against McCain's relentless no-taxes, no-pork message.

Visiting Denver on behalf of the McCain campaign, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sought to reinforce that message.

"The reality is Republicans recognize and have been long saying that Washington is broken, that overspending in Washington is a severe impediment to the growth of our economy," he said, adding, "We want change."

McCain, of course, has frequently been at odds with his party, so that might seem an easy sell. But he shifted his position in some areas, including support for the extension of Bush-backed tax cuts, which he initially called wrong-headed.


Some McCain supporters see the key as his opposition to earmarks for special projects in the budget. He has pledged to veto any earmarks that come across his desk.

"If you can't start by eliminating pork, who are we kidding about our ability to address the more pressing challenges on the budget side?" said Tim Penny, a former Democratic member of Congress who is backing McCain.

Penny, from Minnesota, said the McCain message would fit well with independent voters in the Midwest.

Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

-- Copyright © 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchyTribune Information Services

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