Obama Hits Republican-Leaning County

Barack Obama greeted supporters outside a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Senator Barack Obama took his Red State trending Pink-could-be-Blue state tour to Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, where the mood was dance party festive. On the floor before the candidate walked out, audience members practiced synchronized dance steps, to roars from the crowd.

But the festivities could not sheath the campaign's serious intent. They wanted to take the battle to a North Carolina county that voted narrowly Republican in 2004. And they wrapped themselves in the flag, a task made easier as this county is home to Fort Bragg, the largest military base in North Carolina.

More than one in four adults here is in the Army.

Of late, Republican John McCain and vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin, has slashed at Mr. Obama as a socialist and questioned the identity and, implicitly, the patriotism of some regions of the nation. So a McCain operative suggested yesterday that northern Virginia was not the "real Virginia", which no doubt surprised some million or so Virginians.

Today's event registered as the Obama campaign throwing down its marker.

There was a giant flag and flag bunting, and an eight-part harmony rendering of The Star Spangled Banner, and when Mr. Obama took the stage he wasted little time before bringing up Mr. McCain's attacks on him.

"Lately, he and Governor Palin have actually accused me of – get this – socialism," Mr. Obama said to guffaws from the crowd. "Socialism. It's kind of hard to figure out how Warren Buffet endorsed me, and Colin Powell endorsed me, and I'm practicing socialism."

"John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that."

The Democrat took a few more pops at Mr. McCain. Tough attack commercials fill the airwaves these days, on both sides. But Mr. Obama said that McCain's ads, which depict the Democrat as a shadowy figure too close to a former radical, go well over the line.

"The other side wants to make a big election about small things," he said. "This is not a time to divide this country by class or region; by who we are or what policies we support.

"There are no real or fake parts of this country."

Many in the predominantly African-American crowd spoke of their dawning awareness that Mr. Obama might be able to take their state, which of late has been a Republican bastion in presidential years.

"I think so, yes, I do, I think we just make take it," said Lela Johnson, a 72-year-old black woman. "And there was a time, no so very long ago, when that was beyond my imagination."

But the emphasis today was on voting and turnout, repeated in every speech and echoed in the crowd. Obama's campaign staff reflected a sort of sweaty, nervous optimism, as national polls continue to show them running ahead, but not by a lot.

"The numbers we're seeing at rallies are good portents," said David Axelrod, the campaign's chief strategist, who remains something of a congenital worrier. "These become good barometers of enthusiasm."

As for the time spent in states once seen as Republican-leaning, from Missouri to North Carolina to Virginia, Mr. Axelrod suggested that the hope is to find several routes to an electoral college victory.

"Our goal was to wake up on Nov. 4th with as many ways to 270 votes as possible," he said.

Endorsements are an uncertain elixir, in that they taste good but have a most uncertain effect on voters. Mr. Obama trumpeted his endorsement by former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, who delivered his words of praise for the Democrat on NBC's "Meet The Press".

"This is a city and a state that knows something about great soldiers," Mr. Obama told the crowd. "And this morning, a great soldier, a great statesman, and a great American has endorsed our campaign to change America.

"He knows, as we do, that this is a moment where we all need to come together as one nation – young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat," he said.

The McCain campaign was rather less impressed. They issued, and reissued, an email message from campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.

"Only an unproven and inexperienced politician like Barack Obama would have to rely so heavily on another man's resume in making the case for his own candidacy—and it shows he's not ready," Mr. Bounds wrote in an email.

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