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Obama Tours ‘God’s Country,’ Va. « The Washington Independent

LEBANON, Va. – “This is God’s country,” said Sen. Barack Obama, to loud applause from 2,400 Virginians who packed a gym here to capacity. Obama ripped Sen. John McCain’s economic agenda. He said there was something “un-American” and “fundamentally wrong” with an economy that doesn’t allow children to do better than their parents.

The Democratic presidential nominee also reprised several lines from his nomination acceptance speech, ridiculing the Republicans’ “ownership society” as code for “you’re on your own,” and contending that McCain simply “doesn’t get it.”

Obama’s aides are working hard to burnish his Virginia credentials. Today’s rally included introductions by several local figures. The most famous, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, announced his endorsement in remarks before the rally.

Prudence Dillon, 34, a teacher and mother of four, spoke about why Obama inspired her to volunteer in politics for the first time. Two other speakers touted Obama’s commitment to coal and local party-building, noting that he made more visits to Virginia than any other Democratic nominee.

One speaker went on a tear defending community organizers against Republican attacks, noting that Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus were organizers.

Image has not been found. URL: http://www.washingtonindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/picture-15-217x300.pngVirgina legend Dr. Ralph Stanley endorsed Obama on Tuesday. (Photo credit: Matt Knoth)

“We are the Saudi Arabia of coal,” riffed Obama, as he promised to find a way to “burn coal” with “clean energy technologies.” He also repeated his pledge to take the $10 billion that America is spending in Iraq and invest it at home, drawing a standing ovation.

Obama’s Virginia effort strives for intimacy rather than stadium rallies. He not only took questions at the gym event — about stem-cell research, rural poverty and health care — but also stopped by a shake shop in Abingdon to mingle with a mere handful of customers.

There Obama happened on another legend, the 76-year-old “Big Daddy Garlits,” whom the senator recognized.

From the pool report:

‘This is the father of drag racing, right here!’ Mr. Obama said, introducing Mr. Garlits to the cameras. [Garlits] is known as the pioneer of drag racing for a career that spanned from 1950 to 2003. (He said he retired five years ago, ending with a 310 m.p.h. race.) He lives in Ocala, Fla., but he and his wife were visiting their daughter and came to Ellis Soda Shoppe for some ice cream…. [Garlits later noted that] he was mighty impressed with Mr. Obama and had watched his announcement speech in Springfield and his convention speech in Denver. A lifelong Republican, he said he was frustrated with Washington and undecided between Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain.

Obama was also asked about GOP attempts to ignite a “culture war” over Gov. Sarah Palin’s family. Obama reiterated that candidate’s familes are “off limits,” noting they were “civilians who didn’t choose to run for office.”

Even as the senator spoke, however, the McCain campaign was launching another salvo in cultural combat, disingenously claiming Obama supported “comprehensive sex education” for kindergartners.

Tuesday evening, Obama spokesperson Bill Burton called the attack “shameful and perverse,” explaining that the relevant legislation was actually designed to “protect young children from sexual predators.” “John McCain told Time magazine he couldn’t define what honor was,” Burton added. “Now we know why.”

Finally, Obama’s last question at the gym rally came from a 6th-grader named Payton, who wanted to know how the senator might bring down gas prices. Comitting to tell voters what they “need to hear,” Obama said gas prices weren’t returning to $2 a gallon, and the “only way we can really bring gas prices down long term” is to “start using energy differently,” as his energy plan proposes. (TWI background here.)

Obama’s September push shows he is serious about winning Virginia — which hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1964. The formula is relentless offense on economic populism — and swift defense against the cultural attacks that have bloodied so many Democrats here.

On Tuesday, the formula looked good enough to have Virginia Democrats pondering victory for the first time in generations.

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