Obama, McCain duel over celebrity ad, attacks

SPRINGFIELD, Missouri Thu Jul 31, 2008 12:29pm EDT

Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a combination image. REUTERS/Combination/Files

Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain in a combination image.

Credit: Reuters/Combination/Files

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SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama accused White House rival John McCain of trying on Wednesday to scare voters with attacks on his character, as McCain launched a new ad labeling Obama more of a celebrity than a leader.

"What they're going to do is make you scared -- of me," Obama told voters in Springfield, Missouri, as he pushed his message of middle-class economic relief in a Republican part of a key battleground state in November's presidential election.

Obama, launching a four-day tour of swing states to promote his economic policies, mocked the arguments he said McCain, a Republican Arizona senator, and his supporters make.

"'He's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. He doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills,'" said Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president.

"That's their argument. 'We don't have much to offer, but he's risky,'" he said. "We are in a time right now where it is too risky not to change. It is risky to keep doing what we are doing."

McCain launched a new ad linking the Illinois senator to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, calling him "the biggest celebrity in the world" but questioning whether he could deliver on his talk.

The ad included images of Obama's speech last week in Berlin on his tour of the Middle East and Europe and asked if Obama was ready to lead.

"Senator Obama doesn't have the strength to speak openly and directly about how he will address the serious challenges that confront America," McCain said. "How will he be strong enough to really change Washington?"

DEVELOPING FAN BASE

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters Obama's overseas swing was "much more something you would expect from someone releasing a new movie than running for president."

He said the Obama strategy was to develop a fan base "that allows him to get a lot of media attention and avoids him having to address the important issues of our time."

Obama noted McCain had stepped up his attacks against him and questioned his approach.

"I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads, although I do notice he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself," Obama told reporters after visiting a diner in Lebanon, Missouri.

"He seems to only be talking about me," Obama said. "You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against."

Obama has pivoted to economic themes this week after returning from his trip to the Middle East and Europe, painting McCain as a follower of President George W. Bush's "reckless" economic policies.

In Springfield, he criticized McCain's support for extending Bush's tax cuts as a gift to the wealthy, and he challenged McCain's support for lifting the ban on offshore drilling and said it would not help U.S. consumers for years.

"If I thought that by drilling offshore we could solve our problem, I'd do it," he said. "This is not real. I know it's tempting, The polls say the majority of Americans think it's one way we'll resolve our problems, but it's not real."

The McCain campaign said Obama's comments were "typically superfluous."

"Like most celebrities, he reacts to fair criticism with a mix of fussiness and hysteria," spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "In the face of an energy crisis, Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes on energy and opposition to offshore drilling show that he fundamentally lacks judgment and experience, and is not ready to lead."

A new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation gave Obama a seven-point national lead, 51 percent to 44 percent, in the race for the White House, up from five points last month. It had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Obama was accompanied on a bus tour through Missouri on Wednesday by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who pointedly attacked some of the prevailing questions about Obama's faith, patriotism and attitude.

"They say that he is arrogant, that he's unpatriotic, blah, blah, blah, blah," McCaskill, a strong Obama supporter during the Democratic nomination process, told the enthusiastic Springfield crowd.

"Let me tell you, I know this man. He is humble, he is devoutly Christian, he loves his family more than anything else in the world, he reveres our men and women in uniform, and he is as red, white and blue as you can possibly get," she said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Philip Barbara)

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