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Economy reshapes Obama's message

DUNEDIN — Wonder how much the presidential campaign has shifted in recent months? Just consider Barack Obama's remarks here Wednesday, and compare them with his visit to Tampa in May.

Wednesday, Obama filled Knology Park with about 8,000 people to deliver a speech heavy on assurances for a reversal in the nation's economic fortunes.

"We meet here at a time of great uncertainty for America. The era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has led us to a financial crisis as serious as any we have faced since the Great Depression," Obama said.

"The clock is ticking on this crisis," continued Obama, who was repeatedly interrupted by chants of "Yes we can!" "We have to act swiftly, but we also have to get it right. And that means everyone — Republicans and Democrats and the White House and Congress — must work together to come up with a solution that protects American taxpayers and our economy without rewarding those whose greed helped get us into this problem in the first place."

Iraq and Afghanistan warranted only passing mention, when Obama acknowledged the return of veterans.

But back in May, before the economic slowdown erupted into a financial crisis, the emphasis was strikingly different.

"We are at a defining moment in our history," Obama declared at a large rally in Tampa on May 21. "Our nation is not only involved in a war that we must win in Afghanistan, but is also involved in a war that I believe should have never been authorized and should have never been waged that has cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives and has not made us more safe."

The basic Obama argument is unchanged since he addressed more than 15,000 at the St. Pete Times Forum in May: McCain is out of touch with everyday Americans, is surrounded by lobbyist advisers and represents a continuation of the Bush agenda.

But back then Obama had yet to dispatch with Hillary Rodham Clinton and was fending off questions about whether Florida's primary should count. He wasn't facing Republican attacks for being reluctant to drill for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico, because McCain hadn't yet stepped out in favor of offshore drilling. Obama was talking up the need for Democrats to unite and was lagging by at least 7 percentage points in Florida polls, facing widespread doubts that he would even seriously compete here.

Today, McCain is still pilloried in the standard Obama stump speech but so are lax government regulators and greedy Wall Streeters. And, especially in Florida, the landscape for Obama could hardly be more different.

Obama has spent more than $9-million on Florida TV ads, has spread more than 50 field offices and 400 paid organizers across the state, and is parked in Clearwater this week preparing for Friday's scheduled (though possibly canceled) debate. Polls show McCain's lead has narrowed to statistical tie.

Today, as he was then, Obama is still talking about a host of expensive programs — billions invested in alternative energy, expanded health insurance, more money for teachers and education — even though the financial crisis makes paying for all those goals even more problematic than they already were. On Wednesday he acknowledged that.

"It's going to be harder now because of all the irresponsibilities taking place on Wall Street. So we're going to have to work hard, we're going to have to make good choices, we're going to have to prioritize how we spend our money," Obama told the crowd in Dunedin Wednesday. "We're going to have to go through the federal budget line by line and if programs don't work we should cut them."

Obama also spent considerably more time on this Tampa Bay appearance talking up tax relief: "Be clear because those folks are going to be running some ads that don't tell the truth. I will cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95 percent of all working families. My opponent doesn't want you to know this, but under my plan, tax rates will actually be less than they were under Ronald Reagan."

As much as things change in this roller coaster presidential race, though, some things remain the consistent: Now as then, few people are predicting with absolute confidence which way Florida will vote on Nov. 4.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8241.

Economy reshapes Obama's message 09/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 12:26pm]
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