WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama sharpened his tone against John McCain, accusing his Republican rival of sinking low by accusing him of being a socialist based on his tax plan.
Rallying a crowd Wednesday in North Carolina, the Democratic presidential contender said McCain will soon "be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."
Obama also tried to turn around McCain's reliance on the argument of helping "Joe the Plumber." He's the Ohio man who gained national attention when Obama told him during a campaign stop that he wanted to "spread the wealth around."
Obama said people will be worse off under a McCain presidency whether they are "Suzy the student, or Nancy the nurse, or Tina the teacher, or Carl the construction worker."
While candidates edged in quick jabs, attention turned on the economy, the prime issue in the campaign and a huge drag on McCain as he tries to shed the legacy of President Bush, a fellow Republican.
McCain running mate Sarah Palin joined that effort Wednesday, calling for a "clean break" from the Bush administration's energy policies, which she said relied too much on importing foreign oil.
"We not only provide wealth to the sponsors of terror, we provide high-value targets to the terrorists themselves," Palin said. "Across the world are pipelines, refineries, transit routes and terminals for the oil we rely on. And al-Qaida terrorists know where they are."
In a policy address in Toledo, Ohio, Palin said the recent drop in oil and gasoline prices shouldn't prevent the development of alternative energy sources. The Alaska governor renewed her call for more drilling in U.S. coastal waters and said she and McCain would press for the construction of 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030. Palin also called for the development of clean-coal technology.
Despite Palin's attempt to distance McCain's energy policies from those of the Bush administration, McCain's energy plan largely mirrors the priorities President Bush has pushed for eight years, especially more domestic production.
Offshore oil money
In a campaign appearance Wednesday in Miami's Little Havana, Republican presidential candidate John McCain also renewed his call for additional drilling offshore.
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In Florida, McCain said that such an incentive would increase energy production and help consumers struggling with gasoline prices by leaving the decision to the states but giving them a reason to act.
McCain is spending the day in Florida contesting that state's 27 electoral votes, a crucial battleground in next week's election. After his Miami rally, McCain planned to meet with military leaders in Tampa to talk about national security issues.
Palin said she and McCain believed in an "all of the above" approach toward weaning the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil and criticized Democrat Barack Obama for being slow to embrace options like offshore oil drilling and nuclear power.
Obama has signaled a willingness to explore limited offshore drilling and has said nuclear power is essential to helping meet U.S. energy needs while raising concerns about how to store nuclear waste safely.
The speech sought to highlight one of Palin's resume strengths: energy. As governor, she pushed for $250 million in renewable energy research and an additional $60 million in rebates for Alaskans to make their homes energy efficient.
She crafted her reformer image by standing up to oil-influenced corruption in the Republican Party and pushing through a natural gas pipeline bill that had died at her predecessors' feet.
In Toledo, Palin spoke of fighting the Alaska political establishment and big oil companies, which she said colluded to block the development of a natural gas pipeline that she subsequently helped to develop.
But the speech oversimplified the pipeline project. There's no guarantee that the 1,715-mile pipeline will ever be built. Even if it's not, the company selected to lead the project could still receive up to $500 million in state subsidies.
'Spreading the faith'
And while Palin is right that she stood up to the big oil companies to get a pipeline deal, an Associated Press review recently found that the bidding process was flawed and narrowed the field to a pipeline company with ties to Palin's administration.
Palin took a shot at Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican who was convicted Monday on federal corruption charges.
"As you may have seen in the news this week, Alaska's senior senator is not the first man to discover the hazards of getting too close to moneyed interests with agendas of their own," she said.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden pushed early voting in Florida on Wednesday and urged supporters to come onstage for a training session in how to go door to door for Obama.
"We need some help spreading the faith in the next six days," Biden said.
With polls showing Obama and McCain even in Florida, the Sunshine State became even more of a battleground. Florida has 27 electoral votes, more than any other swing state.
The Obama campaign said it's trying to ensure a win by making personal contact with as many voters as possible. With 150,000 active volunteers in the state, South Florida Obama spokesman Bobby Gravitz said that supporters are reaching thousands of voters daily, either door to door or through phone calls.
"Everyone made it very clear that we want you to be engaged in the campaign. That means voting, but that means more than voting," Gravitz said. "If you came through those doors, we have your name and phone numbers and we're going to ask you to volunteer for this campaign, to get up off the couch."
Those grass-roots efforts are what it takes to elect change, Biden said.
"John McCain dressed as an agent of change is just not a costume that will sell to the American people," he said. "Especially when John McCain is the one who's been saying under the Bush economic policies we've made great economic progress."
'Battered' middle class
Criticizing McCain and Palin for what he said were negative campaign tactics, Biden told supporters that "new ideas, new leaders are often met with attacks" — attacks that he called nothing more than lies trying to distract voters from Obama's message.
Biden said Obama would cut taxes for working people and small businesses, create 120,000 jobs in Florida and make health care affordable for all Americans. He said seniors earning less than $50,000 a year would not pay income taxes under an Obama administration and shouldn't have to file a tax return.
Biden also spoke of hope for members of the "battered" middle class struggling to hang onto their homes. Florida, with about 400,000 foreclosures, is among the states hit hardest by the real-estate crisis.
"When you lose a job or you lose a house through foreclosure it's an economic loss, but it is emotionally devastating," he said.
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