ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Barack Obama kicked off his last week of campaigning before the Democratic National Convention by reaching out Monday to a still-elusive voting bloc — working women who preferred Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.
Addressing a women's roundtable Monday in Albuquerque a day after Sen. Clinton had been in town stumping for him, Obama talked about his support for equal pay legislation and told the women that his mother had struggled as a single mom. He said that women on average earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and that he didn't want his own two daughters, 10 and 7, to face gender discrimination.
"When I hear that women are being treated unfairly in the workplace," he said, "I get mad and I get frustrated."
In this week when both the presumptive presidential nominees, Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain, may announce their running mates, both candidates are looking to cover lots of ground.
McCain, campaigning in Florida, accused Obama of being weak on foreign policy and unwilling to admit that President Bush's "surge" policy in Iraq is working.
"With less than three months to go before the election, a lot of people are still trying to square Senator Obama's varying position on the surge in Iraq," McCain told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando.
"First, he opposed the surge and confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure. This was back when supporting America's efforts entailed serious risk," McCain said.
McCain also told the veterans that Obama is driven more by ambition than by ability to be president.
"What's less apparent is the judgment to be commander in chief," he said. "And in matters of national security, good judgment will be at a premium in the term of the next president — as we were all reminded of 10 days ago by the events in the nation of Georgia."
Obama also took heat from his own supporters. At a town-hall meeting at an Albuquerque high school, a local party ward chairwoman, Dallas Timmons, told Obama that many Democrats initially were attracted to him because of his strong anti-war position but that he'd "backpedaled" a bit.
She noted that he was talking up war in Afghanistan lately and had supported legislation that gave telecommunications companies immunity for helping the government spy on people after saying he wouldn't support that.
"Are you going to set an agenda of change or one of compromise" with Republicans? she demanded.
Replied Obama: "You're feisty and I like that, but you're wrong. Let me tell you why you're wrong."
He told Timmons he'd always supported U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and opposed Iraq partly because it took resources from that fight. He said the surveillance legislation he backed this year was a reasonable compromise that made the executive branch more accountable, even though he didn't want to immunize telecommunications companies.
Ultimately, he said, "I intend to get things done as president, and by the way I intend to win the presidency. That means that yes, sometimes we're going to need to compromise to get things done. There's nothing wrong with compromise as long as you understand what your core principles are."
The crowd booed loudly as Obama told them that McCain wanted to continue Bush's tax cuts and give breaks to oil companies.
"Everybody making more than $2.5 million raise your hands," Obama said. "You might want to vote for John McCain."
Earlier, at the roundtable discussion, Obama ridiculed his rival's support for the sort of personal health savings accounts that President Bush also supports.
Obama predicted they would cause employers to dump insurance coverage, and that coverage would become far more expensive for individuals — and unavailable for many with pre-existing conditions. He said that was personal to him because his mother died from ovarian cancer and struggled with the insurance system during her illness.
McCain's concept "would be very good for people who are rich ... or healthy and never use health care," Obama said. "It wouldn't be good for the average family."
For his part, McCain courted voters in Florida's NASA area by bashing Obama when speaking later at a planetarium at Cocoa Beach's Brevard Community College. McCain accused Obama of flip-flopping on whether to cut NASA funds for missions to the moon and Mars.
"This is a particular concern when a candidate has a short, thin record on the issues as in the case of Senator Obama," McCain said. "Let me say, just in case Senator Obama does decide to return to his original plan of cutting NASA funding — I oppose such cuts. This position is a shortsighted approach that fails to recognize the benefits of space exploration and the technology and economic advantages that result from the space program."
Obama's schedule for the next few days includes stops in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia as well as New Mexico — all states that Bush won in 2004 but that Obama advisers think the Democrat can win this year.
Obama's emphasis Monday morning on health care and pocketbook issues dear to working women was acknowledgement that he still has work to do to consolidate support in his own party base.
Democrats announced Monday that Lilly Ledbetter, whose Supreme Court fight led to pending legislation that aims to make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, will speak at their convention next week.
While participants at the roundtable said they were Obama campaign volunteers, some said they'd started out supporting others.
Paula Vigil, a public school counselor, initially supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and said she likes Clinton, as well. But she now embraces Obama.
"Anybody that voted for Hillary that has the interests we're talking about here will vote for him," she predicted of Obama. "John McCain is not a choice."