Obama Continues to Press McCain on Iraq
By Keith B. Richburg
ABERDEEN, S.D. -- Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning here in South Dakota in advance of its Democratic primary Tuesday, continued to focus on the general election, exchanging rhetorical fire with presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain over Iraq and last year's "surge" of American troops.
Using his sharpest language yet in what has become a long-distance three-day duel, Obama, at a morning town hall meeting in Rapid City, S.D., compared McCain to President Bush for refusing to admit he misspoke on Thursday when he said U.S. troop numbers in Iraq had been "drawn down to pre-surge levels."
"We've seen this movie before -- a leader who pursues the wrong course, who is unwilling to change course, who ignores the evidence," Obama said.
"We don't need any more spin about a surge that was supposed to get the Iraqis to step up and take responsibility for their own future so that we could bring our troops home." Obama said. "We don't need more leaders who just see what they want to see in Iraq -- it's time to recognize where we are in Iraq."
McCain's camp wasted no time firing back at Obama for suggesting the troop surge was not working and that McCain was engaging in "spin."
"Barack Obama is ignoring facts, he irresponsibly refuses credible evidence on the ground proving American troops have surged toward significant gains in Iraq and it proves he is just not ready to be commander in chief," said McCain's spokesman Tucker Bounds in a statement.
Bounds said Obama's lack of travel to Iraq over the past two years, since the surge began, "raises questions about whether his campaign is based on conceding defeat in Iraq, no matter what progress our troops make there."
The back-and-forth indicated how both the Obama and McCain camps see the Iraq war as a possible winning issue, albeit for exactly opposite reasons. And their exchange also demonstrated again how Obama is focused now almost exclusively on the coming election battle against McCain, even though he still has three contests left in his nomination fight against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- Puerto Rico on Sunday, and Montana and South Dakota next Tuesday.
So confident is Obama of capturing the party's nomination once these final contests are complete that he is already planning what amounts to a Tuesday evening rally in St. Paul, Minn., at the very site where, in September, McCain will officially become the Republican nominee. The choice of Minnesota is seen as a way to aggressively seize the offensive in taking the campaign to the Republicans.
Here in South Dakota, Obama is taking a somewhat leisurely pace. His campaign had just two scheduled town hall events today -- the one in Rapid City, and here in Aberdeen -- and a brief walk through a Rapid City restaurant and a store selling Native American handicrafts, where he bought a necklace for his wife, Michelle, and bracelets for his two daughters.
South Dakota is considered a Republican stronghold, having voted Democratic just four times since achieving statehood. President Bush won here with 60 percent of the vote. But some Obama supporters said they believed the state could be in play this November, with a growing political awareness among Native Americans, and a significant number of Republicans and independents switching to vote Democratic this year.
"I think it will go Democratic -- I really do," said 72-year-old retiree Carol Lundberg, who posed for photos with Obama outside the Rapid City restaurant. "I know some diehard Republicans who are switching."
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