ST. LOUIS — Democrat Barack Obama sought to link Republican rival John McCain to President Bush's economic policies as the two presidential candidates maneuvered for the upper hand on a top concern of voters.
"If you are satisfied with the way things are going now, then you should vote for John McCain," Obama told North Carolina supporters. "If you think that we need a fundamental change ... then we have a clear choice in this election and we've got to seize it."
The Illinois senator made the comments in a telephone call to nearly 300 people gathered at an event he was to have held in Charlotte, N.C. He had to postpone that event until a later date, yet to be determined, after his campaign plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis to deal with a mechanical flight control problem.
Still, he hit the high points of his economic arguments in a 10-minute phone call to the event site.
The economy, and especially its impact on the middle class, has emerged as the central focus of the presidential campaign, given skyrocketing gas prices, high job losses and rising food costs. Both candidates were launching weeklong efforts to highlight their differences on the issues.
Obama and McCain each sought to send a message to those feeling the biggest economic pinch: I feel your pain.
"I don't need to tell you that times are tough," Obama said in the phone call, adding that "people are worried, and scared of the prospects for the future."
However, Obama said: "It is not inevitable that we continue these tough times." He said the country must adjust to the globalized economy, better train and educate children, make certain there's "a real energy policy" and invest in roads and bridges. "Help is on the way."
Obama claimed he and his opponent have different economic philosophies.
"The central premise of this campaign has been when the economy works for everybody when it grows from the bottom up, that's not just good for individual Americans it's also good for the economy as a whole," Obama said. "John McCain wants to continue the same policies that George Bush made the cornerstone of his administration. They haven't worked."
Doug Holtz-Eakin, a McCain senior policy adviser, responded to Obama's criticism, saying in a statement: "While Barack Obama campaigns on a promise of no tax hikes for anyone but the rich, we once again find that his words are empty when it comes time to act."
Obama had planned to give lengthy remarks hitting on economic themes in North Carolina. But his unexpected detour meant he would, instead, make the comments before his traveling press corps while in Missouri, a pivotal swing state.
In those remarks, Obama chided McCain for saying at one point that the country has made "great progress economically" under Bush. "He believes we're on the right track," Obama said of McCain.
Obama also called anew for the passage of "a second stimulus package that provides energy rebate checks for working families, a fund to help families avoid foreclosure, and increased assistance for states that have been hard-hit by the economic downturn." He also renewed his call for McCain to support such a package.
"There are many policies we'll disagree on, but immediate relief for families who are struggling shouldn't be one of them," Obama said.