FARMINGTON HILLS, MI - "These folks are shameless!" thundered Sen. Barack Obama, after listing his Republican opponents' distortions and economic plans. The line drew roaring approval from a packed gym at North Farmington High School on Monday night, where about 1,500 Michiganders had gathered to support the Democratic ticket.
Obama was introduced by a former Republican with a very Republican name, John Ashcraft, who lost his job in January. Ashcraft explained that he decided to change gears and back Obama because he will fight for middle-class Americans.
In a direct knock against McCain's personal fortune, Ashcraft said he was part of the majority of voters "who know exactly how many houses we have, because we're struggling to pay the mortgage."
Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country (background here). Economic woes are even becoming a concern in Oakland County, an affluent area to the west of Detroit's suburbs that was once reliably Republican. Sen. John Kerry won the county of 640,000 voters by a scant 3,000 last cycle. Obama must do well here to keep Michigan blue.
The Democratic nominee was clearly on a tear Monday night. He blasted McCain for outlining economic "polices that are identical to George Bush's." He ridiculed Gov. Sarah Palin -- her name swiftly drew boos -- for claiming she is a change agent. "What are they talking about? How do they have the nerve to say it?" he asked, tweaking the Republicans for co-opting his "change" mantle with "empty words."
Mary Farmer, 79, who said she was seeing Obama speak for the first time, agreed with the crowd's antipathy for Palin. "I think McCain made a big mistake," she told me, "[Palin] is too young, she's not experienced, she has very little [to offer]."
Turning more solemn near the end of his address, Obama raised the Iraq war as an economic disaster, just as he did Monday morning before a labor audience in Flint.
"Why are we in Baghdad spending $10 billion [a month]?" he asked. "Why aren't we building in America?" He was energetic and loose throughout the evening remarks, drawing more laughter and cheers than his morning message event in Flint.
In response to an audience question about civil liberties, for example, Obama delivered a rousing riposte -- one part Dirty Harry and one part Justice William Brennan Jr. -- savaging the Bush administration for failing to catch bin Laden and slamming right wingers for abandoning the rule of law.
"Don't suggest that its un-American to abide by what the founding fathers set up for over 200 years," he declared, drawing more applause from the crowd.