BY MARC CAPUTO
JACKSONVILLE -- -- To an amped and overflowing crowd in a Republican stronghold, Democrat Barack Obama stepped up his attacks on John McCain, saying Saturday that the Republican in these tough economic times "wants to do for healthcare what Washington did for banking.''
Obama's broadside -- including a shot on McCain for having top Washington mortgage-industry lobbyists on his campaign -- was launched in the very city where, five days before, McCain armed Obama with a potent political tool: McCain's statement that the ''fundamentals of the economy are strong.'' McCain tried to clarify hours later in Orlando that he meant that American workers were still strong. He also accused Obama of twisting his words.
But it was too late. Amid the failure of major banking institutions, tumbling stock prices, the bailout of insurance giant AIG and record mortgage foreclosures in Florida, the economy became the top story on the campaign trail.
And Florida voters, according to a new Miami Herald poll, favor Obama's approach to handling it. Obama followed McCain into Florida -- the nation's top job loss state -- and gave nearly identical speeches in Miami, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville to portray McCain as too much of a self-described ''de-regulator'' to propose workable regulations.
Earlier in the day, in Daytona, Obama echoed his television commercials that savage the Republican for supporting private investment accounts for social security -- something Obama calls ``privatization.''
The ad says the Bush plan would cut benefits -- a ``rank misrepresentation,''according to the nonpartisan Annenberg Fact Check service.
''John McCain is one-hundred percent committed to preserving social security benefits for seniors, and Barack Obama knows it -- this is a desperate attempt to gain political advantage using scare tactics and deceit,'' McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a written statement.
But McCain ads attempting to tie Obama to former executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don't tell the whole story, either.
Obama said that McCain's campaign is so heavily run by lobbyists that the past head of Fannie Mae's lobbying shop recently state that, ''When I see photographs of Sen. McCain's staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me.'' Said Obama: ``Folks, you can't make this stuff up -- Gimme a break.''
The overflow crowd at Jacksonville's Metropolitan Park -- capacity 13,000 -- ate it up. The energy was notable because though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Duval County, it is a reliable area for the GOP. George Bush got nearly 1 and ½ times more votes than John Kerry in 2004. McCain could barely muster 3,000 when he spoke nearby on Monday.
Crowd counts, however, aren't as good a measure as political polls. And a message trailed behind a plane circling overhead underscored what early polls indicate: ``Florida is McCain & Palin Country.''
According to a new Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll, McCain leads Obama overall by a negligible margin, but thrashes him 55-35 percent in North Florida.
A strongly black area, Jacksonville buoyed Obama in the Democratic primary, giving him nearly 50 percent of the votes to Hillary Clinton's 33 percent -- the exact opposite of the final numbers for the entire state. Obama played to the crowd, quoting Marin Luther King and subtly recalling a Malcolm X speech by telling the crowd not to be ''hoodwinked'' and ``bamboozled.''
Obama predicted he'd win Florida with Duval County's help, and he plans to stay in the state a little longer next week in Tampa Bay -- a crucial swing-vote area -- in a sign he might think he can take must-win Florida from McCain.
Obama said that McCain wanted healthcare to go the way of banking, and pointed to a recent article McCain wrote in Contingencies Magazine in which the Republican noted that ``opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.''
McCain's camp said Obama was guilty of a ''cheap distortion'' because the article was about ''giving American families greater access to health care and the ability to buy it across state lines.'' Obama offered few specifics in the speech, making promises to fix virtually every problem in America: healthcare, education, energy dependence, and joblessness. He said he could pay for it all by ending the war in Iraq -- the latter getting his biggest applause.
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.