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Obama speaks to Charlotte crowd, but McCain doesn't plan to lose N.C.

Barack Obama spoke about economic issues to tens of thousands at a Charlotte rally. But the McCain campaign officials sounded confident that they'll win a fight for voters in a state that hasn't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama revved up the crowd at rally in downtown Charlotte Sunday as part of an aggressive campaign in North Carolina.

However, McCain campaign officials said they intend to win a state that has been reliably Republican on the national scene for more than three decades.

A crowd quickly gathered after the gates opened at 11 a.m. for the rally along Fourth Street in Charlotte. Obama appeared a little after 1:15 p.m. and spoke primarily on economic issues, including taxes, health care, job creation and infrastructure.

Campaign officials estimated that 20,000 people squeezed inside the rally area and between 5,000 and 10,000 stood outside.

Obama pushed for North Carolina Democratic candidates as well, specifically mentioning Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, state Sen. Kay Hagan and U.S. Congressman Mel Watt.

Obama talked about the turmoil on Wall Street and blamed Republican policies he said McCain is committed to continuing. "We're now seeing the disastrous consequences of this philosophy all around us, on Wall Street as well as Main Street," he said.

Obama criticized a $700 billion economic bailout proposal by President George Bush and Congressional leaders as a "concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan." He said any bailout must be able to recover that money, protect workers and financial institutions and prevent another crisis.

"The circumstances we face require decisive action, because your jobs, your savings and your economy are at risk," Obama said. "There must be no blank check when American taxpayers are on the hook for this much money."

McCain campaign officials responded quickly, saying that Obama had not provided a concrete plan for economic recovery as their candidate had.

"Barack Obama called for 'decisive action' while offering no new ideas, policies or concrete solutions – it shows he is just not ready to lead," said Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for McCain-Palin 2008.

"John McCain rejected complacency and political calculation in favor of a direct call for updated, effective regulations that will protect Americans' homes, savings and jobs – we cannot afford a directionless driver like Barack Obama."

Obama promised to deliver tax cuts to 95 percent of Americans. "You're more likely to get a tax break under Obama than under the John McCain plan," he said.

North Carolina Republicans objected to that promise and claimed that Obama had voted to raise taxes nearly 100 times as a U.S. senator.

"Barack Obama already has announced plans to raise taxes that will cripple the job growth prospects for small businesses, the engine of job creation in North Carolina," Linda Daves, chairwoman of the state Republican party, said. "(His) running mate just this week called paying higher taxes 'patriotic.' ... It is not unpatriotic to want to save more of your own money to pay for your children's education or to buy a home or just to pay bills."

Obama promised to create 5 million new jobs by "transform(ing) the energy industry." Those jobs would come from activities such as increased production of fuel-efficient cars and manufacturing renewable energy sources.

Improved education will also help American workers compete globally, Obama said. He said he would bring that about by increasing early childhood education, recruiting a "new army of teachers" with higher salaries and more support, and implementing higher educational standards and more accountability.

Students who volunteer for the armed forces, Peace Corps or in their community should be "guaranteed" a college education, Obama said.

Obama promised to reform the health care insurance industry. "I'm going to tell the health insurance companies, 'Do right by your customers, pay the claims you're supposed to pay,'" he said.

Obama said he would "bring the war in Iraq to an end responsibly" and use the military "wisely" by first employing "strong diplomacy."

"We'll not just talk to our friends but talk to our enemies," Obama said.

Bringing about such "real change" will require "steadiness" and "sacrifice" and come with "a cost" but will be possible to achieve if Americans can overcome division and "come together," Obama said.

Fight for North Carolina voters

Jimmy Carter's 1976 victory was the most recent time a Democrat won North Carolina, which carries 15 electoral votes on the eastern edge of a reliably red belt that stretches to Louisiana. Although President George Bush won the state by a wide margin four years ago, North Carolina's booming population has brought a changing electorate.

"This is a state that has obviously grown a great deal," McCain political director Mike DuHaime said. "Any time you have that kind of growth, you see opportunities for change, electorally and otherwise."

And the state's large black population has been galvanized by Obama's candidacy. Registrations among North Carolina blacks are up almost 10 percent this year, while white registrations are up 4 percent.

Despite those changes, DuHaime said he doubts that Obama will win over a large enough segment of North Carolinians.

"Historically, Democrats that have a chance to win in North Carolina are centrist Democrats, and that is certainly not he case with Senator Obama," DuHaime said. "We are very confident that this is a state that we are going to win Nov. 4."

A Time/CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released last week showed the race virtually tied at 48 percent for McCain, 47 percent for Obama.

An Elon University Poll released Friday gave higher favorable ratings to McCain (54 percent) and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (48.6 percent) than to Obama (37.4 percent) and his vice presidential pick, Sen. Joe Biden (40.9 percent). The poll was based on interviews with 411 people statewide and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

DuHaime said the GOP plans to open up more offices, for a total of 20 statewide. The McCain campaign has increased advertising in the state. He could not say if a visit by McCain or Palin was in the future.

Obama has been on the air with television ads for months, and visits by his wife, Michelle, and Biden to Charlotte and Greensboro this week provided. Obama's campaign has 30 offices and about 375 paid staff in the state.

DuHaime acknowledged the amount of effort and money Obama has sunk into North Carolina but predicted that investment would not give returns.

"This is a state that Sen. Obama and his campaign have targeted for some time," DuHaime said. "They've put in an extraordinary amount of resources. I don't believe those resources are ultimately going to pay off."


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