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Obama at the Pump: Subprime Loans, Trucking Taxes, the War and Gas

Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speaks during a news conference on biofuel at Molly's Gas Station March 31, 2008 in Manheim, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images.)

By Shailagh Murray
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- It's the economy, stupid. Or is it Iraq?

Both issues are burning bright these days on the campaign trail, creating a parallel narrative to the superdelegate/Florida/Michigan refrain and forcing all three of the remaining presidential candidates to perform some tricky rhetorical pivoting on two complex and vitally important issues.

Sen. Barack Obama delivered this news bulletin to a crowd in Lancaster, Pa., earlier today, using the mortgage meltdown to underscore his call for change -- which apparently extends to the business world.

"Some of you have heard of a company called Countrywide Financial. Countrywide Financial was one of the institutions that was pumping up the subprime lending market and inducing people to take out these subprime loans." The audience, once raucous, listened intently.

"These are the folks who are responsible for infecting the economy and helping to create a home foreclosure crisis," Obama continued. "Two million people are at risk of losing their homes." But when Countrywide was sold, "the two people in charge of the company got $19 million bonuses. So they get a $19 million bonus while people are at risk of losing their home. What's wrong with this picture?"

"Everything!" a woman shouted. "Everything's wrong with it," Obama agreed. "The problem is, we've almost come to expect it."

But Iraq has returned to the front burner in recent days, with violence on the uptick and as Obama seeks to draw a three-way contrast between his antiwar stance, Sen. Hillary Clinton's initial support for the invasion, and Sen. John McCain's continued allegiance to President Bush.

At a press conference at a Manheim, Pa., gas station this afternoon, Obama toggled between nuclear power, trucking taxes and patriotism. But the lengthiest exchange came when a reporter challenged him to distinguish his long-term Iraq strategy from McCain's.

"What I've said is I would have a strike force in the region, perhaps in Iraq, perhaps outside of Iraq. So that we could take advantage of, or we could deal with, potential problems that might take place in the region. That's very different from saying we're going to have a permanent occupation in Iraq. And it's certainly different from saying we would have a high level of combat troops inside Iraq for a decade or two decades, or as John McCain said, perhaps 100 years."

A reporter suggested that Obama was misstating McCain's position, and although Obama objected that he wasn't, the Republican National Committee quickly produced a written rebuke. "Even though it's well documented that there is no truth to the statement that McCain wants to fight the Iraq war for another 100 years, Obama has continued to intentionally misrepresent McCain's position," said RNC spokesman Alex Conant.

The issue first arose in January, during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, when a voter asked McCain about Bush's assertion that U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for 50 years.

"Maybe 100," McCain said. "As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it's fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 31, 2008; 6:59 PM ET
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