Obama debuted his post-debate attack on McCain with a campaign swing through North Carolina and Virginia, Republican-leaning states where he thinks he can make inroads. He also found time to speak by phone to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., about the congressional negotiations surrounding the Wall Street recovery deal, according to campaign staff.
The Illinois senator was spending most of the day trying to capitalize on his debate performance by taking McCain to task for not talking about any plans for helping the middle class in the midst of the country's financial and fiscal crisis.
"Just as important as what we heard from John McCain is what we didn't hear from John McCain," Obama said. "We talked about the economy for 40 minutes and not once did Sen. McCain talk about the struggles of middle-class families. Not once did he talk about what they are facing every day here in North Carolina and across the country."
McCain's campaign suggested Saturday that the Arizona senator had referred to the middle class during the debate when he argued that Obama had voted in favor of higher taxes on families making $42,000 a year and proposed hundreds of billions in new government spending that would place a crushing burden on families and businesses. Obama disputed both of those assertions and said that 95 percent of America taxpayers would not pay more in taxes under his plan.
"If he was honest, Barack Obama knows he was unable to debate the merits of supporting higher taxes on the middle class, and bloated government spending during a looming economic crisis - it simply proved indefensible last night," McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement.
Appearing with Obama on Saturday, running mate Joe Biden called McCain's judgment on every important issue "wrong."
"Last night, John McCain's silence on the middle class was deafening," said Biden, a Delaware senator. "We need more than a brave soldier. We need a wise leader."
The Obama campaign tried to back up that point in its newest ad, a spot released Saturday that also notes McCain never mentioned the middle class during the debate. "McCain doesn't get it," the announcer says. "Barack Obama does."
"We need a president who will fight for the middle class every day, and that's what I will do when I'm in the Oval Office," Obama told the cheering crowd.
Obama's wife, Michelle, and Biden's wife, Jill, visited Tallahassee, Fla., together to urge young people and minorities to vote in November, capping a two-week voter registration drive.
In Michigan, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned for her ex-rival, saying that Republicans shouldn't be rewarded "for what they have done to our country."
"We cannot turn over our country with these deep deficits, with these serious economic problems, with the international challenges, to the same team that got us into this mess in the first place," Clinton told more than 1,000 people gathered at a park in Grand Ledge, Mich., about 10 miles west of Lansing, the first of three campaign stops scheduled in the state.
"There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Sen. Obama understands the economic challenges we face as well as the need to change the way we do business here at home and around the world," Clinton said.
Obama advisers said they were encouraged by his performance in the foreign policy arena at the debate at the University of Mississippi but immediately started dampening expectations for future debates.
"This was supposed to be John McCain's turf, and Barack Obama owned it," Biden said.
Obama adviser David Plouffe told reporters the Democrat "spoke really to people in their homes about needing a president who is going to fight for the middle class, who is going to work on things like education and health care."
The presidential hopefuls are scheduled to debate twice more, at Belmont University in Nashville on Oct. 7 and at Hofstra University in Hempsted, N.Y., on Oct. 15.
The next debate will be a town hall format, and Plouffe called McCain the "undisputed town hall champion."
Associated Press writer David Eggert in Grand Ledge, Mich., contributed to this report. ---
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