NORFOLK, September 10 – Democrat Barack Obama hurled an acidic attack at his Republican White House rivals’ reformist credentials, likening their promise of change to putting "lipstick on a pig.",
"We’ve been talking about change when we were up in the polls and when we were down in the polls," Obama said as surveys suggested John McCain and Sarah Palin have overhauled his lead for the November 4 election.
"The other side, suddenly, they’re saying ‘we’re for change too.’ Now think about it, these are the same folks that have been in charge for the last eight years," the Illinois senator told a crowd of 2,400 people in Lebanon, Virginia.
"You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It’s still going to stink after eight years. We’ve had enough," he exclaimed to a standing ovation.
In accepting the party’s vice presidential nomination, Alaska Governor Palin joked at the Republican convention last week that the only difference between a "hockey mom" like herself and a pitbull was "lipstick."
True to her pitbull tag, Palin has been mauling Obama daily on the campaign trail as McCain presents their Republican ticket as true change that will shake up Washington, salvage the economy and protect the nation from foreign threats.
The McCain campaign decried Obama’s language as the latest example of what it said was Democratic sexism thrown at the little-known politician vying to be America’s first female vice president.
Former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift said Obama was guilty of "disgraceful comments, comparing our vice presidential nominee, Governor Palin, to a pig."
"It’s clear to me — as I’m sure it will be to fair-minded Republicans, Democrats and independents across the country — that Senator Obama owes Governor Palin an apology," she said on a media conference call.
The Obama campaign retorted that "lipstick on a pig" was a well-worn phrase and, via senior adviser Anita Dunn, issued a stinging retort after spending days accusing McCain and Palin of playing fast and loose with the truth.
"Enough is enough. The McCain campaign’s attack tonight is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy — the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s health care plan just last year," Dunn said in a statement.
"This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run," she said.
While Obama rallied voters in one Lebanon, the Republicans campaigned in another Lebanon, in Ohio, where Palin repeated her contentious claim that she had said "thanks, but no thanks" to an infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
At the Ohio event alongside Palin, McCain proclaimed themselves a "team of mavericks" who would "return this government back to the people of this country."
"I know how to work across the aisle," the Arizona senator said, insisting that Obama had "never reached across the aisle on any major issue in the time he’s been in the Senate."
Since his shock decision in late August to select the Alaskan as his vice presidential running mate, McCain has come from behind to tie with Obama or pull ahead in the polls.
A new poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed a statistical dead heat with Obama on 47 percent to McCain’s 46 percent, down from a three-point edge for the Democrat last month and a six-point lead in July.
Gallup’s latest tracking survey had McCain on 49 percent and Obama on 44, with pollsters noting a major shift by white women and independent voters to the Republican ticket since the socially conservative Palin signed on.
Another poll by CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation had Obama on 49 percent and McCain on 48, another statistical tie given the margin for error.
In a measure of her electrifying effect on the race, Palin herself polled well ahead of Obama’s running mate Joseph Biden in a hypothetical match-up by CNN-ORC between the vice presidential nominees — 53 percent to 44.
"There’s no doubt that the Republicans are excited, particularly the right wing of the Republican Party is excited, by Governor Palin’s choice," Obama told reporters earlier in Dayton, Ohio.
"I think that has less to do with gender than it has to do with her ideological predispositions, which are closely aligned to theirs," he said, insisting that both women and men would soon return to the issues at hand.