JACKSONVILLE — Sen. Barack Obama, who wrapped up a two-day sweep through Florida by repeatedly bashing John McCain at a rally here Saturday, is already preparing for a quick return.
He is expected to arrive in Pinellas County as early as Tuesday, to prep for Friday's debate against Sen. McCain at the University of Mississippi.
Sequestering himself in Florida is a tactical decision, affording Obama privacy as well as media exposure in the battleground state where a new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll shows a dead heat.
Campaign officials confirmed the visit but would not say where Obama will stay or whether he would hold a public event. His strategy follows the lead of Al Gore, who went to Longboat Key in 2000 to cram for his debate with George W. Bush.
On Saturday, Obama's outdoor rally drew more than 12,000 people — not including thousands forced to watch from outside the fence at Metropolitan Park.
His message in the solidly conservative city was clear: strike at McCain on economic issues. "We can't steer ourselves out of this crisis with a driver who wants to go the same way — into the ditch," Obama said, linking McCain to the Bush administration.
He urged the crowd not to be "hoodwinked" and "bamboozled" by the barrage of TV ads his rival is airing. Many cheered — "Get him, Barack!" one woman yelled.
Obama said McCain's solution to the crisis was to blame his opponent. (McCain has two ads closely linking Obama to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are at the heart of the mortgage meltdown.)
He referenced McCain's comments in Jacksonville last Monday, the day Lehman Bros. collapsed. McCain had said the "fundamentals of the economy are strong," words that provided a week's worth of attacks by Democrats insisting McCain is out of touch. But McCain, who spoke to about 3,000 people, quickly retooled his message about the crisis to show a harder edge.
Indeed, both candidates have scrambled to respond to the fast-moving financial crisis. Friday in Miami, Obama talked broadly about core principles he wants to see in a plan to stabilize financial markets.
He did not offer specifics of that plan Saturday, saying only that the nation needs something that works not just for Wall Street but for "Main Street," too, and that it should create jobs and keep people in their homes.
McCain has called for more streamlined and focused regulatory oversight and wants to form a new body to help financial institutions avoid bankruptcy.
Obama said his rival's top advisers have worked as lobbyists and that makes him unqualified to bring needed reform.
"When you hear John McCain talk about taking on the old boys' network in Washington, know this: On the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting, that old boys network. They've got charter members up in there."
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.