NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, pouncing on a top Republican aide's claim that the campaign is not about issues, said Wednesday that John McCain is trying to run away from his party's bad economic record.
Campaigning in eastern Ohio, Obama noted that McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said the election would be decided largely on voters' perceptions of the candidates' personalities.
"This election is not about issues," Davis told The Washington Post this week. "This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."
Obama mentioned Davis' comment three times during a one-hour appearance at an outdoor forum on economic issues facing women. He used it to accuse speakers at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., of avoiding talk about job losses, home foreclosures and other issues.
"If you've got George Bush's track record, and John McCain voting 90 percent of the time in agreement with George Bush, then you probably don't want to talk about issues either," Obama said. "If you don't have any issues to run on, I guess you want it to be about personalities."
In response, the McCain campaign said in a statement, "Our campaign has been consistent and clear: This election is about whose judgment you can trust to move America forward," and it argued Obama doesn't have that judgment.
Obama spoke hours before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, was scheduled to address the Republican National Convention. Both parties are competing fiercely for the votes of women, especially those disappointed by Hillary Rodham Clinton's failure to win the Democratic nomination.
Obama is concentrating this week on Ohio. Bush narrowly carried the state in 2004 and it could prove pivotal again this year. He said McCain, Bush and other Republicans "just don't get" the hardships many Ohioans are facing because of the long-running loss of manufacturing jobs.
Obama and McCain are running about even in Ohio, with Obama getting 47 percent and McCain 45 percent among registered voters, according to a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 2.
Gabrielle Neavin, 24, a single mother working for minimum wage, introduced Obama in a college courtyard. Obama later said of McCain and his backers: "I don't think they are connecting with what ordinary folks, like Gabrielle, are going through every day."
"It wasn't hard for me to connect" with Neavin, he said, because "I was raised by a mom in similar circumstances." Obama's mother was 18 when he was born, and she briefly relied on food stamps to support her family.
Obama cited his proposals to increase the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit; to pump money into wind and solar power, clean-coal technology and biodiesel fuels; and to help subsidize health and tuition costs for many families.
Obama made a rare direct reference to Palin while discussing women's efforts to be paid the same as men in similar jobs. If elected, he said, "we are going to pass equal pay for equal work."
"I disagree with John McCain on this, and I disagree with Gov. Palin on this," he said. "They think that the reason women aren't getting paid the same is because of different education" achievements.
McCain and Palin say they believe in equal pay for equal work. But they oppose Obama's efforts to overturn court rulings that allow workers no more than 180 days to file complaints alleging discriminatory pay.
Obama at one point flubbed the town's name, calling it "New Pennsylvania" rather than "New Philadelphia." Some in the friendly, invitation-only audience murmured softly, but did not correct their guest.
Campaigning at a farm picnic in Dillonvale, in eastern Ohio, Obama told listeners not to believe Republicans who say he opposes gun rights.
"You know they always do that out here," he said, referring to rural areas. "I believe in the Second Amendment. Nobody who is a hunter out here or a sportsman needs to worry about their guns in an Obama administration. You spread the word out there."
Obama also issued a statement expressing sympathy for Hurricane Gustav's victims in Cuba. He asked Bush "to immediately suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans for a minimum of 90 days."