Obama promises to help middle class in Greensboro

by Jordan Green

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama returned to Guilford County, making a signature campaign speech in a county whose solid support helped him carry North Carolina by a resounding margin and ultimately clinch his primary contest against Sen. Hillary Clinton. Similarly, the campaign hopes a Democratic win in November in this traditionally Republican-leaning state will tip the scales to put its candidate in the White House.

“North Carolina, I need to you to get busy,” Obama told throngs of supporters in front of the Depot in downtown Greensboro on Sept. 27. I’m asking you to knock on some doors. I want you to make some phone calls. I need you to talk to your neighbors. I need you to give me your vote. And if you do, I promise you that I will win Greensboro, I’ll win North Carolina and we will win this general election. And when we do, we’re going to change this country and change the world.”

Recent polling now suggests that Obama and his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, enjoy even support in the North Carolina. A poll released on Sept. 20 by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling gave Obama and McCain 46 percent each, with Libertarian Bob Barr picking up 5 percent. Although Democrats control the Governor’s Mansion and both houses of the General Assembly, the last time a Democratic presidential candidate won North Carolina was in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was running.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District, dismissed the significance of Obama’s appearance in Greensboro.

“He’s made four visits in the last 30 days,” the congressman said in a conference call with reporters hours after the speech. “Not surprisingly, he’s only visited Democrat areas. So much for being on the offense. He’s only trying to gin up the Democrat base in Democrat areas.”

Regional campaign manager Buzz Jacobs said the campaign was “constantly reassessing” whether McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would visit North Carolina, but expressed confidence that the Republicans will carry the state.

“We are taking the Bush 2004 model, which was obviously successful, taking it and tweaking it a little bit,” he said. “At the end of the day the rural conservatives that Obama needs are not going to vote for a guy that will sit down with terrorist leaders like Ahmadinejad.”

The line to see Obama and his running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, stretched back to the intersection of North Church and East Lindsay streets at 11 a.m., more than an hour before the speech. It wound 11 blocks around Smith Street and down Elm Street before emptying through February 1 Place and into Davie and Washington streets.

The presidential running mates’ stop in Greensboro was the first campaign event for the Democratic ticket following the inaugural presidential debate in Oxford, Miss. the previous night.

Building on his disagreements with McCain over how best to help ordinary Americans in the fallout of Wall Street’s financial meltdown, Obama made a direct pitch to North Carolina voters bruised by manufacturing job losses and, like the rest of the nation, challenged by home foreclosures and rising healthcare costs.

“Change means having a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it,” the candidate said. “That’s why I’m going to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in North Carolina. Jobs like the 400 union jobs that AT&T created over n Goldsboro, that will be based on their pledge to return outsourced work to our shores. That’s the kind of company that needs to be rewarded.”

The Democratic nominee also promised that an investment in green technology under his administration would also revive a local economy still overshadowed by the collapsed textile and furniture sectors, an economy in which tobacco plays a decreasing role.

“I’ll invest $15 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy — wind power and solar power, the next generation of biofuels — an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced,” Obama said. “You know, at that old textile mill somebody’s going to be making a windmill. And at that old tobacco farm somebody’s going to be growing switch grass to make to make Cellulosic ethanol.”

Following a week in which House representatives fielded angry phone calls and e-mails from constituents disgruntled about their tax dollars being spent on a $700 billion plan to cover bad debt held by banking and securities firms, Obama proposed an economic stimulus plan to redistribute wealth to middle-income Americans. As a condition for approving the Wall Street bailout, the candidate said an independent board should be set up to oversee how the money is spent; taxpayers should be treated like investors and earn dividends when the economy recovers; tax dollars should be invested in helping struggling homeowners, rebuilding schools and roads and in funding to cities; and none of the bailout money should got to CEOs of banking and securities firms that have made poor investment decisions.

McCain’s senior economic advisor, Doug Holtz-Eakin, who joined McHenry and Jacobs on a conference call set up by the campaign, said that despite Obama’s rhetoric about green jobs, his initiatives amount to “another big government spending program, where everything runs through Washington.” He said that McCain also favors green jobs and opposes tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. “There is nothing that Obama is going to do by raising taxes on small business,” Holtz-Eakin said, “that will help create jobs.”

Obama told supporters in Greensboro that none of the money from the $700 billion bailout should go into the pockets of the banking and securities CEOs.

“There are many to blame for the crisis,” he said. “That starts with the speculators on Wall Street who gamed the system and the regulators who looked the other way.”

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