Chicago (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama blamed Washington for the country's economic woes Monday and sought to link Republican rival John McCain to President Bush's policies as the presidential candidates maneuvered for the upper hand on a top concern of voters.
"It hasn't worked, it won't work, and it's time to try something new," Obama said of the country's current economic policies under a GOP president, in remarks the Democrat had planned to deliver later in Charlotte, N.C.
He may not get to.
Obama's campaign plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis because of a mechanical issue, and it was unclear whether he would make it to North Carolina for his scheduled event.
The economy, and especially its impact on the middle class, has emerged as the central focus of the presidential campaign, given skyrocketing gas prices, high job losses and rising food costs. Both candidates were launching weeklong efforts to highlight their differences on the issues.
Both Obama and McCain sought to send a message to those feeling the biggest economic pinch: I feel your pain.
In North Carolina, Obama had planned to lament job losses and foreclosures. The text of his speech said: "For millions of families, these everyday worries and long-term anxieties have grown considerably worse over the last year."
He also took a swing at McCain and Bush in the remarks, lumping the two Republicans together.
"As our world and our economy have changed, only Washington has stood still. The progress we made during the 1990s was quickly reversed by an administration with a single philosophy that is as old as it is misguided - reward not work, not success, but pure wealth," Obama said, arguing that Bush policies were skewed toward big corporations and multimillionaires.
He said that strategy has failed badly and that McCain offers "exactly what George Bush has done for the last eight years."
Obama chided McCain for saying at one point that the country has made "great progress economically" under Bush. "He believes we're on the right track," Obama said of McCain.
"I won't stand here and pretend that we can or should undo the economic transformations that have taken place over the last few decades," Obama said. "There are jobs that aren't coming back and this world will always be more competitive. But I do believe that if all of us are willing to share the burdens and benefits of this new economy, then all of us will prosper - not just because government makes it so, but because we're willing to take responsibility as individuals to work harder and think more and innovate further."
He called anew for the passage of "a second stimulus package that provides energy rebate checks for working families, a fund to help families avoid foreclosure, and increased assistance for states that have been hard-hit by the economic downturn." He also renewed his call for McCain to support such a package.
"There are many policies we'll disagree on, but immediate relief for families who are struggling shouldn't be one of them," Obama said.
On taxes, he said: "It's time to reform our tax code so that it rewards work and not just wealth." Again referring to McCain, he added: "The difference is - he trusts that prosperity will trickle down from corporations and the wealthiest few to everyone else. I believe that it's the hard work of middle-class Americans that fuels this nation's prosperity."
Doug Holtz-Eakin, a McCain senior policy adviser, responded to Obama's criticism, saying: "While Barack Obama campaigns on a promise of no tax hikes for anyone but the rich, we once again find that his words are empty when it comes time to act."