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Southeast Missourian - Obama: Choice in November Will Be Clear

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Southeast Missourian - Obama: Choice in November Will Be Clear

When it is finally time to choose a president in November, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama told more than 200 people gathered into the cutting room at Thorngate Ltd. Tuesday, the choice will be clear.

President Bush will not be on the ballot, he said, but his policies will. U.S. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, has shown little inclination to change the policies that have put the U.S. into an expensive war in Iraq, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and seen the price of gasoline rise to levels that make driving to work an expensive necessity, he said.

"John McCain is running for George Bush's third term," Obama told the crowd of Thorngate workers, invited Democratic activists, city dignitaries and people who came to see the candidate without any real hope of hearing him speak. The event was billed as an invitation-only town hall meeting, but Obama's campaign team allowed about 60 people who had been waiting outside for a glimpse to come in.

The crowd was welcoming, applauding warmly at several points, and appreciative when Obama noted that the suit he wore, a Unite HERE suit made by union workers, "fit like a glove." And they gave him another cheer when he promised to return to Cape Girardeau later in the fall campaign to continue the fight.

Among the crowd were three generations of one family — Susanne Hildebrand, her daughter, Brooke Clubbs, and Clubbs' son, Eli. After it was over, Hildebrand said she was confirmed in her support for the Illinois Democrat. "To hear him talk so intelligently and so professionally, it is clear he is not pulling the wool over your eyes."

Obama has a commanding, but not decisive, lead among delegates to the Democratic National Convention. But he hardly mentioned his party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, instead focusing his attention on issues raised by the crowd and contrasting his positions with McCain.

The basic problem of the current administration's economic policies, Obama said, is the emphasis on helping wealthy special interests at the expense of working families. Republicans will talk about an economic expansion over the past several years, Obama said, without pointing out that families are not gaining ground.

"It is the first economic expansion when the average family income went down by $1,000," Obama said. "The economic pie has grown, but the average family is getting a smaller and smaller slice."

The danger for politicians, he said, is that voters are tuning them out. "They don't really have confidence that anybody is listening."

Obama spoke for a little more than an hour, spending about 20 minutes preparing his audience with his ideas and then responding to their questions. While the event was supposed to be about economic issues, questions also ranged to the war in Iraq, U.S. efforts to combat terrorism and whether he would take Clinton as his vice presidential nominee.

It was at that point that he made his only reference to Clinton, and then only to acknowledge that the primary race is not quite over. But he made it clear, as did his supporters and staff, that Tuesday's event was the opening of Obama's national election campaign aimed at the November vote, not primary contests.

"It is the very first stop outside a primary state," said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Obama's campaign co-chairwoman.

As he laid out his program in his prepatory remarks and answers to eight questions posed by the audience, Obama described a plan he said will benefit average Americans rather than special interest groups.

Among the items:

* Tax incentives for "green jobs" that would bring shuttered factories back into production. By taxing windfall profits of oil companies, he said, the nation could provide $15 billion in annual incentives for items such as windmills and solar power panels. The result could be 5 million new jobs, he said.

* An infrastructure development plan focused on roads, bridges, locks, dams and sewers, with a goal of adding 2 million jobs.

* Tighter regulation of the credit industry to rebuild confidence and prevent a repeat of the subprime mortgage crisis.

* Tax policies that end rewards for companies that move jobs overseas and trade policies that push other nations to live by their agreements.

Obama said his plan for ending the war in Iraq would take about 16 months before combat troops were all home. But the war must end, he said, because it is draining the U.S. Treasury and making it hard to make trade deals with the nations that lend the U.S. money to cover budget deficits. "That makes us weaker," he said. "It is hard to argue with your banker."

Throughout the day, Republicans from the state and national level presented attacks on Obama's proposals. Cape Girardeau lawyer John Heisserer, who will be an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver, said GOP criticism won't find a receptive audience with working people. "It sounds to me like those guys are doing the same job they have been doing for years and years and protecting the interests of the wealthy," he said.

The Obama visit is designed to show that the Illinois Democrat is concerned about the problems facing all Americans, not just the people who live in areas Obama is likely to win. "I think he wants to show the people of Southeast Missouri that even though he is predicted to not carry this area, he still cares about their wants and concerns," Heisserer said.

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