Image: John McCain
Stephan Savoia  /  AP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures as he quotes his Democratic presidential opponent Sen Barack Obama, D-Ill., during a campaign rally at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, Sunday.
updated 10/19/2008 4:07:10 PM ET 2008-10-19T20:07:10

Evoking "Joe the Plumber" in his pivotal home state, Republican John McCain on Sunday cast himself as the guardian of middle-class workers and small-business owners who fuel the economy.

"If I'm elected president, I won't raise taxes on small businesses, as Sen. (Barack) Obama clearly wants to do, and force them to cut jobs," McCain said of his Democratic opponent during a rally at Otterbein College. "I will keep small business taxes where they are, help them keep their costs low and let them spend their earnings to create more jobs. We need that in Ohio. We need it across America."

McCain was flying from the Columbus suburbs northward to Toledo, near where "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher lives, amid the GOP's push for this swing state and its 20 electoral votes.

The Holland, Ohio, plumber was in New York making the media rounds with his family, but McCain has been evoking his spirit after making him the focal point the final presidential debate between McCain and Obama. McCain also mentions Wurzelbacher at his rallies after the plumber was videotaped questioning Obama about whether his tax plan would keep him from buying the two-man plumbing shop where he works.

'Spread the wealth around'
While some analyses showed Wurzelbacher faring better under Obama's plan than McCain's, McCain has lashed out at Obama for saying that while his policies may force some workers to pay higher taxes, they were designed to "spread the wealth around" by targeting only families making over $250,000 annually.

"Sen. Obama is more interested in controlling who gets your piece of the pie than he is in growing the pie," McCain told a crowd of several thousand.

He drew cheers when he proclaimed he was campaigning "on behalf of Joe the Plumber and Rose the Teacher and Phil the Bricklayer and Wendy the Waitress."

Obama, in North Carolina, said he is the one worried about "the cops and firefighters who keep us safe, ... the waitresses who work double shifts, the cashiers at Wal-Mart, the plumbers fighting for the American Dream."

He added: "John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that."

'Dam has broken'
Earlier Sunday, McCain complained that the vast sums of money Obama risks the post-Watergate financing reforms.

Speaking on "Fox New Sunday" hours after Obama's campaign reported raising a record $150 million in September, McCain said the overall sum his Democratic rival has raised — $605 million — showed the "dam has broken" for future White House races.

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McCain also complained that the identities of people who contributed more than $200 million of Obama's total take have not been reported, although that is allowable under federal law because the individual donations fall under the $200 reporting limit.

"I'm saying it's laying a predicate for the future that can be very dangerous," McCain said. "History shows us where unlimited amounts of money are in political campaigns, it leads to scandal."

The Arizona senator has been limited to spending $84 million for the general election campaign after he accepted federal funds under a program created after the Watergate scandal. Obama initially indicated he would adhere to the same limit, but reversed course and became the first post-Watergate candidate to finance a general-election campaign with private funding.

McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, also sloughed off Obama's endorsement by one of the country's best known black Republicans and former military leaders, Colin Powell, who was President Bush's first secretary of state.

Deflects Powell criticism
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Powell expressed personal affection for McCain but chided his friend of 25 years for the type of campaign he has run against Obama, who is black.

McCain said: "I've always admired and respected Gen. Powell," before noting his endorsement by four other former secretaries of state. Asked whether Powell's endorsement undercut McCain's stance that Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, is not ready to lead, McCain said of Powell: "We have a respectful disagreement."

On other topics, McCain:

  • Distinguished between anti-Obama automated calls he is making in battleground states and similar calls made against him by George W. Bush during the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina. Those calls suggested McCain was mentally unstable and had fathered a black daughter out of wedlock. The senator had adopted an orphan from Bangladesh.

McCain is now employing someone who made those calls against him to highlight Obama's association with a Vietnam War radical.

"These are legitimate and truthful, and they are far different than the phone calls that were made about my family," McCain said.

  • Defended his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate and cast her in a fresh ideological role.

"She is a direct counterpoint to the liberal feminist agenda for America," he said.

McCain also held a conference call with Jewish leaders and was endorsed by The Columbus Dispatch.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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