Presidential candidates battle over their tax policies

The Baltimore Sun

MIAMI - Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. John McCain, his Republican presidential rival, yesterday of trying to distract Americans from the nation's economic turmoil by suggesting the Democratic candidate is a socialist.

With less than a week before Election Day, Obama used stinging language as the pair battled over tax policies. McCain campaigned yesterday in Florida on the economy before turning to foreign affairs. Obama was in North Carolina en route to the Sunshine State, which is important to both campaigns.

McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have repeatedly argued in recent days that Obama's tax policy is designed to redistribute wealth and that the Democrats are advocating socialism. Obama has called for a tax increase for those earning more than $250,000 a year and for a tax cut for those earning less. McCain has said he opposes any tax increase.

In radio interviews yesterday morning, McCain repeated that theme.

Obama's policies "are clearly those that have been used by other countries that you could describe as socialist," the Arizona Republican said. "I mean redistribution of wealth, take money from one group, give it to others is [a]fundamental principal of some of these, quote, socialist countries. I won't call him a socialist. It doesn't matter what we call him. The point is what he wants to do. And that has been tried before. That's what George McGovern wanted to do. That's what Jimmy Carter did. And we're not going to do it."

At a morning rally in Raleigh, N.C., Obama ridiculed McCain for suggesting that he is a socialist.

"By the end of the week, he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten," Obama joked before an estimated crowd of 28,000 people. "I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

On a more serious note, the Illinois Democrat faulted his opponent for favoring an expansion of President Bush's tax cuts. The country would be better off, he said, if the middle class paid less in taxes and the wealthy paid more.

"Whether you are Suzy the student, or Nancy the nurse, or Tina the teacher, or Carl the construction worker - if my opponent is elected, you will be worse off four years from now than you are today," Obama said, playing off McCain's pledge to champion people like Joe the Plumber, the Ohio man whose name McCain invoked repeatedly during their final debate. "So let's cut through the negative ads and the phony attacks."

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said, "No one cares what Barack Obama does with his toys, but Americans do care that he wants to raise taxes, add a trillion dollars in new spending and redistribute your hard-earned paycheck as he sees fit."

Obama also opened a new line of attack yesterday with a TV commercial that targets Palin. The ad quotes McCain saying in a debate last year that he "might have to rely on a vice president" for expertise on the economy. Two words - "His choice?" - flash on screen, and then the spot cuts to video of Palin winking.

Obama's campaign is running the ad at a time when polls show Palin has become a liability to McCain's candidacy, with many voters viewing her as unqualified to step up to the presidency should the need arise.

Obama's trip to North Carolina in the campaign's closing days - it is his seventh visit since he captured the Democratic nomination in June - reflected the increasingly bleak election map that McCain faces as he is forced to defend states that Bush won in 2004.

Bush carried nearly every state where the candidates and their running mates are campaigning this week. In addition to North Carolina, they include Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia.

From Raleigh, Obama was to fly to Florida. He planned to appear live from Broward County in part of a 30-minute TV ad last night on CBS, NBC, Fox, Univision, BET, TV One and MSNBC.

Obama also planned to campaign for the first time with former President Bill Clinton last night at a rally in Kissimmee, near Orlando.

Yesterday morning, McCain courted Cuban-American votes in Miami's Little Havana. In an interview with Radio Mambi, one of several he did for Hispanic programs, McCain said, "The Cuban-American vote can be vital to whether I win Florida or not."

Yesterday afternoon, McCain turned back to foreign affairs - an issue that most consider his strong suit - as he met with foreign-policy advisers.

Meanwhile, Palin made what the Republican campaign billed as a major address on energy independence, calling for "a clean break" from the Bush administration's reliance on importing foreign oil.

"Three decades of partisan paralysis on energy security is enough," she said at a solar energy company in Toledo, Ohio. "It's time we meet this challenge in a way consistent with the character of our nation, and that starts with producing more of our own energy."

Palin told an audience at Xunlight Energy in Ohio that she would bring "serious reform" of energy policy to Washington, as she has to Alaska.

"Relying upon oil from the Middle East, we not only provide wealth to the sponsors of terror, we provide high-value targets to the terrorists themselves," she said. "Across the world are pipelines, refineries, transit routes and terminals for the oils we rely on. And al-Qaida terrorists know where they are."

Echoing Palin's call for "American energy resources, brought to you by American ingenuity and produced by American workers," McCain told voters in Miami that if he is elected, he would make sure that Florida and other coastal states share in the revenue from offshore drilling.

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