Nation & World

Obama sharpens attack on McCain, drops veep clues

RALEIGH, N.C. — Democrat Barack Obama continued to sharpen his attacks on John McCain Tuesday, saying that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee "doesn't know what he's up against right now."

"He can talk all he wants about Britney (Spears) and Paris (Hilton), but I don't have time for that mess," Obama continued, a reference to a McCain TV ad comparing Obama to two pop culture icons who aren't noted for their intellect.

At a town hall meeting in Raleigh, N.C., Obama took a question from a voter who noted the active role that Vice President Dick Cheney plays in President Bush's administration and asked, if Obama were elected, "What's your plan to utilize your vice president?"

Obama's answer was predictably critical of the Bush-Cheney team, but his response also may have been revealing.

He used the word "he" to describe his choice rather than the phrase "he or she," which would appear to exclude potential female running mates such as Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

A senior Obama strategist, Robert Gibbs, said that reporters shouldn't "read anything into" Obama's use of the masculine pronoun.

An earlier comment from Obama, though, also made it seem unlikely that he'd pick Clinton. He told a woman in the town hall audience that he gets Wellesley College, a women's college outside Boston where Clinton was the student commencement speaker in 1969, confused with co-ed Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Obama also didn't emphasize Washington experience, foreign policy expertise or age, but he did talk about his running mate's need to be passionate about domestic policy, and said he wants someone who'd feel comfortable playing an active role in advising and challenging him.

"I won't hand over my energy policy to my vice president," he said. "I won't have my vice president engineering my foreign policy for me."

Obama said he wants a running mate who's "independent" and willing to tell him, if elected, "You know what, Mr. President, you're wrong on this and here's why."

McCain continued to hammer at his Democratic rival Tuesday, posing atop an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and charging that Obama doesn't have a realistic grasp of energy issues.

"Senator Obama opposes new drilling," the Arizona Republican senator said on a rig that he said sits atop 160 million barrels of oil. "He has said it will not "solve our problem" and that "it's not real." He's wrong, and the American people know it."

Earlier Tuesday, Obama used an appearance at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention to attack McCain's critique of him to the same group a day earlier, but he got a cooler reception than the Vietnam veteran did.

Obama denied McCain's accusation that he favored failure in Iraq or that was shifting his anti-war stance out of expediency or tailoring his foreign policy in an attempt to win the presidency. "Let's have a serious debate, and let's debate our disagreements on the merits of policy — not personal attacks," Obama said.

Obama said he wouldn't attack McCain's support for the Iraq war because, "I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest" and that "now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same. I will let no one question my love of this country." He also said that he knew there were Democrats and independents, as well as Republicans, in the audience.

While initially perceived as lower key in his response to recent Russian aggression against Georgia, Obama told the veterans Tuesday that, "I reiterate my demand that Russia abide by the cease-fire" and that "Russia must know that its actions will have consequences."

Saying that he supports aid to the nation of Georgia for rebuilding after the Russian invasion, Obama also invoked the name of "my friend Sen. Joe Biden" of Delaware, who just returned from a visit to Georgia and is calling for reconstruction aid. Biden is considered one of Obama's possible running mates, a decision that Obama is expected to announce within days but that for now remains secret.

In Orlando, Obama drew applause for his pledge to expand health care coverage for veterans and for saying that he had "no greater priority" than routing al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also said that McCain had been wrong to predict that U. S. troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq and other strategic judgments.

McCain, however, was the clear favorite among the predominately older, white male VFW crowd, and there was little indication that Obama's speech changed minds. Fewer VFW members attended Obama's remarks than heard McCain's — due at least partly to heavy rain and hurricane and tornado threats.

Sam Compton, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, said that Obama "seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth" when he calls for bringing troops home from Iraq and focusing more on domestic priorities, then talks about the need to redeploy troops to Afghanistan.

"McCain in my personal opinion has more experience on foreign affairs than Obama and has served in the military," Compton said. "I think that's important."

(Talev reported from Orlando with Obama and Douglas reported from Washington.)

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