RALEIGH, N.C. — Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday called for a second round of government tax rebate checks to pump the American economy and to help families facing rising costs.
In a stop at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds to kick off a two-week national tour to talk about the economy , Obama said another $50 billion infusion would help people who have lost their jobs and their homes while confronting higher prices for food and gas.
"We have to give (people) a way out by lowering costs, putting more money in their pockets and rebuilding a safety net that’s becoming badly frayed over the last few decades," he told about 1,500 people at the invitation-only event.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also called for more transparent rules to help people secure mortgages they can afford, expanding Congress' health plan to uninsured Americans, college tuition breaks for students in exchange for community service and closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations at the expense of working families.
"We did not arrive at the doorstep of our current economic crisis by some accident of history," he said. "This was not an inevitable part of the business cycle that was beyond our power to avoid. It was the logical conclusion of a tired and misguided philosophy that has dominated Washington for far too long."
Obama said President George W. Bush has sacrificed investments in health care, education and the nation's infrastructure in favor of tax cuts for wealthier Americans and special interests. He said John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, would continue the same policies.
"The choice we face right now (is) a choice between more of the same policies that have widened inequality, added to our debt and shaken the foundation of our economy or change that will restore balance to our economy; that will invest in the ingenuity and innovation of our people (and) that will fuel a bottom-up prosperity to keep America strong and competitive in the 21st century," he said.
The event attracted a number of prominent Democratic politicians, including former presidential candidate John Edwards, Congressmen Bob Etheridge and G.K. Butterfield, State Treasurer Richard Moore and state Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand.
"(Changing the) tax codes to to benefit the middle class saves a huge amount of money and will generate prosperity that will help us grow," Rand said of Obama's plan.
Gov. Mike Easley, who endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton before the state's May 6 primary, introduced Obama, saying he knew he was late to the party but was fully behind Obama's candidacy.
"I'd rather be a bum in the boxcar of the Obama train than in the front of the bus with John McCain," Easley said.
The appearance was Obama's first in North Carolina since defeating Clinton in the North Carolina primary with a little more than 56 percent of the vote. Political observers said the move shows he thinks North Carolina could be up for grabs in the November election.
North Carolina hasn't supported a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the state.
"I don't accept the argument that North Carolina's a red (Republican-leaning) state. Twenty percent of voters are unaffiliated," Butterfield said.
Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said Obama already has a network of support from the primary and could prompt record African-American turnout in the November election.
"You've got this wild card of crossover appeal and his race," Taylor said. "But I still feel that it's John McCain's to lose."
Democratic strategist Gary Pearce agrees.
"It pains me to say as a Democrat, but I don't think this is really a winnable state for a Democratic candidate," Pearce said.
For example, Bush carried the state easily in 2004 when Edwards, who was a U.S. senator from North Carolina at the time, ran as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket.
North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Chris McClure said Obama's message of change wouldn't change the state's affection for GOP presidential candidates.
"We're an ever-changing state, but I do not think we're a purple state. I think we're a solid red state," McClure said.
The Republican Party launched a "Change We Can't Afford" Web site to talk about Obama's economic policies, playing off the "Change that Works for You" theme of his tour.
"It's very interesting he comes here (to talk) about raising more taxes," McClure said. "We're just going to let people know this is change we can't afford."
If Obama can force McCain to spend more time and money shoring up historically Republican states like North Carolina, that's a strong move, Pearce said. Making North Carolina a battleground state in the fall "means Obama's getting ready to win a national landslide," he said.
Hundreds of Obama supporters who lined up in the morning heat Monday to grab a choice seat in the Expo Center for his speech differed with the so-called experts. They said North Carolina and the U.S. need the ideas Obama offers.
"If something is not done about the economy, this country has had it," Eddie Francis said. "We need some change."
"He was on target with everything he's saying," Anntoinette Royals said. "Somebody needs to educate McCain."