ST. LOUIS - Sen. Barack Obama drew his largest U.S. crowd to date yesterday - an estimated 100,000 people who came to hear him speak at the Gateway Arch - as the Democratic presidential nominee campaigned in battleground Missouri just 17 days ahead of the election.
His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, campaigned in two other hotly contested states - North Carolina and Virginia - where the crowds were smaller, but the rhetoric was heated.
McCain used words like welfare and socialism to describe Obama's plans to raise taxes on businesses and Americans earning more than $250,000 and to redistribute that in the form of cuts and credits to 95 percent of working families.
"Since you can't reduce taxes on those who pay zero, the government will write them all checks called a tax credit," McCain told an estimated 7,000 people in Concord, N.C. "And the Treasury will cover those checks by taxing other people."
In a paid radio address yesterday morning, McCain concluded that Obama's plan would turn the Internal Revenue Service into "a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington."
Obama adopted new rhetoric, saying McCain's plans to continue President Bush's tax cuts amounted to corporate welfare and reflected his values.
"It comes down to values," Obama said. "In America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it?"
Obama said McCain "is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare.' The only 'welfare' in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America - including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who spoke at the rally before Obama took the stage, criticized McCain running mate Sarah Palin for her recent suggestion that some parts of the country are more pro-American than others. McCaskill went on to suggest that the Alaska governor isn't particularly qualified to be vice president.
The only larger Obama event was the international audience of about 200,000 who turned out during the Illinois senator's summer visit to Berlin, where he spoke about foreign policy.
"All I can say is, 'Wow,' " Obama said as he surveyed the crowd at the edge of the Mississippi River, underneath the nation's tallest monument.
Joyce Jones, 62, a campaign volunteer, said television stations had predicted a turnout of about half the size. "It shows that people really want a change," she said.
Jocelyn Harmon, 44, said she showed up to lend her support to the idea that Obama could win Republican-leaning Missouri. "It is history, regardless of who wins," she said.
McCain continued to make post-debate references to "Joe the Plumber," the Ohio man who had recently asked Obama about his tax policies. Obama told Joe Wurzelbacher that he wants to "spread the wealth" around, which McCain has seized on to make his argument about socialism.
"At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," McCain said in his radio address. "They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Senator Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it's just another government giveaway."