Hours before being greeted by the biggest crowd of his campaign, Democrat Barack Obama quietly told a small group of seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security they depend on because he supports privatizing the program.
Fire officials estimated 65,000 packed into a riverside park for a spectacular afternoon rally at a sun-splashed scene on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland. They said an additional 15,000 were left outside and dozens of boaters could be seen floating in the river.
"Wow, wow, wow," Obama said as he surveyed the audience. "We have had a lot of rallies. This is the most spectacular setting, the most spectacular crowd we have had this entire campaign."
While more subdued, his apprearance early in the day before about 130 people at an assisted living facility to talk Social Security was a significant attempt to tie the GOP's presidential nominee-in-waiting to an unpopular President Bush on a pocket book issue that motivates seniors — and also concerns younger generations worried about their own future retirement.
"Let me be clear, privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it, it's a bad idea today," Obama said. "That's why I stood up against this plan in the Senate and that's why I won't stand for it as president."
Bush proposed a Social Security plan in 2005 that focused on creating private accounts for younger workers, but it never came up for a vote in Congress. Democrats strongly opposed the idea and few Republicans embraced it.
Criticizes McCain on Social Security
Obama said McCain would push to raise the retirement age for collecting Social Security benefits or trim annual cost-of-living increases. Obama has rejected both ideas as solutions to the funding crisis projected for Social Security in favor of making higher-income workers pay more into the system.
"We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden onto seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity," he said.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds accused Obama of making "misinformed partisan attacks."
"John McCain has been clear about his belief that we must fix Social Security for future generations and keep our promises to today's retirees, but raising taxes should not be the answer to every problem," Bound said.
It was a day of coastal campaigning for the two Democrats still competing for the party's presidential nomination.
Obama was in Oregon, where he is favored to win the state's presidential primary on Tuesday. Hillary Rodham Clinton spent a second straight day in Kentucky, where she is favored to win when its voters head to the polls the same day.
She attended worship services at a Methodist church in Bowling Green, and happily sang hymns and joined in Bible readings. But her smile faded when the pastor launched into a sermon about adultery, asking his congregants whether the devil had ever whispered over their shoulders in their marriages.
Her mood appeared to brighten by the time she arrived for a rally at West Kentucky University.
"Now, my opponent said the other day he wasn't coming back, so I've got the whole state to myself," Clinton said, sounding happy not to be sharing the Kentucky spotlight. "What a treat."
Later Sunday, the Clinton campaign collected about $150,000 at a backyard fundraiser in Fort Mitchell, a northern Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. Nathan Smith, the event's host, is vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and a superdelegate — but he still has not committed to supporting Clinton.
Obama seeking to distinguish himself
Obama, the front-runner for the nomination, has begun casting himself as the inevitable nominee and using his time to distinguish himself from McCain as he pivots toward the fall campaign. He has scheduled appearances later this week in Iowa and Florida, two key swing states.
He underscored that speaking with reporters in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, saying he'll use the Iowa visit as another way to focus on November.
"We thought it was a terrific way to kind of bring things full circle," said Obama. "We still have some contests left but if Kentucky and Oregon go as we hope, then we think we will have a majority of pledged delegates at that point and that's a pretty significant mark, that means that after contests in every state, or almost every state and the territories, that we have received a majority of the delegates that are assigned by voters."
He declined to declare victory.
"It doesn't mean we've declared victory because I won't be the nominee until we have a combination of both pledged delegates and super delegates to hit the mark," said Obama. "What it does mean is the voters have given us a majority of delegates. Obviously that's what this primary and caucus process is all about."
During the meeting with seniors, Obama was asked why McCain seems to have avoided the enormous press scrutiny the Democrats have gotten.
Obama said McCain has benefited from a Republican nomination process that ended early while the Democratic race continues. He said the attention both candidates receive will grow more intense as the race settles into an Obama-McCain contest.
"It's very understandable that the press has focused on myself and Senator Clinton because it's been a pretty exciting race," Obama said. "The fact is that the press will submit him to the same scrutiny they are giving to me."
"People will lift the hood and kick the tires with John McCain, just like they do with me," he said, who traveled Sunday with his wife, Michelle.