TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Barack Obama made his first direct criticism of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on Saturday, saying she pretends to oppose spending earmarks when she actually has embraced them.
Speaking to 800 people at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds in Terre Haute, Ind., the Democratic presidential nominee ridiculed John McCain and his running mate, the Alaska governor, for describing themselves as agents of change at this week's GOP convention.
"Don't be fooled," Obama told the crowd surrounding him in a large barn. "John McCain's party, with the help of John McCain, has been in charge" for nearly eight years.
"I know the governor of Alaska has been saying she's change, and that's great," Obama said. "She's a skillful politician. But, you know, when you've been taking all these earmarks when it's convenient, and then suddenly you're the champion anti-earmark person, that's not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can't just make stuff up."
McCain has vowed to wipe out earmarks, which are targeted funding for specific projects that lawmakers put into spending bills. As governor, Palin originally supported earmarks for a controversial Alaska project dubbed the "bridge to nowhere." But she dropped her support after the state's likely share of the cost rose. She hung onto $27 million to build the approach road to the bridge.
Until Saturday, Obama had refrained from criticizing Palin directly, saying only that she, like McCain, would continue the Bush administration's policies.
Democrats have debated how to deal with Palin. They want to avoid charges of sexism but find ways to highlight what they see as her political weaknesses.
Obama delivered some of his most withering criticisms yet of McCain, although he did so with chuckles and an air of mock disbelief. McCain has acknowledged voting with President Bush 90 percent of the time in Congress, Obama said.
"And suddenly he's the change agent? Ha. He says, 'I'm going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over.' Who is he going to tell? Is he going to tell his campaign chairman, who's one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell his campaign manager, who was one of the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington?"
"I mean, come on, they must think you're stupid," Obama said as the crowd laughed and cheered.
The McCain campaign noted that Obama has steered numerous earmarks to his state of Illinois. However, Obama has not been the critic of earmarks that McCain and, more recently Palin, have been.
Obama said Republicans are targeting his character, and he criticized McCain for saying he would reduce the partisan rancor in Washington. Pretending to address McCain, he said, "Did you pay attention to the last two days of your convention? Were you not watching?"
"When you start just focusing exclusively on trying to tear the other person down instead of what you are going to do on behalf of the American people to deal with this economy," Obama said, "then that's not serving Democrats, that's not serving Republicans, that's not serving anybody."