Obama: 'They talked about me but not about voters'

Barack Obama entered the final stretch of the race for the White House by accusing John McCain of presiding over a convention in St Paul that repeatedly attacked him while offering nothing to address the economic vice that is tightening on most voters.

His criticism came as new figures showed unemployment hitting 6.1 per cent. Those watching the Republicans, Mr Obama told supporters in Duryea, Pennsylvania, "wouldn't know we have the highest unemployment rate in three years because they didn't spend any time talking about the middle class".

The senator, who has still not opened a comfortable lead on Mr McCain in the polls, went on: "They talked about me a lot in less than respectful terms. They spent a lot of time trying to run me down. But what they didn't talk about is you. And what you're going through."

The Democrats were caught on the hop by the surprise selection of Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, as Mr McCain's running mate. But, by yesterday, they had settled on a plan of attack that will avoid all mention of her family issues. Nor do they expect to press the inexperience issue too hard. However, they do see opportunities to criticise her record as governor, for instance on the environment.

The Palin factor will also concentrate the efforts of the Democrats to win over women voters, even though they do not consider it likely that many former supporters of Hillary Clinton will be tempted to support the Republican ticket because of Mrs Palin, whose social views are conservative.

Deploying women to speak on behalf Mr Obama will become a first priority, with Mrs Clinton already scheduled to hit the campaign trail in Florida, a key swing state, on Monday. Senator Clare McCaskill of Missouri was chosen yesterday to pin the blame for the jobless figures on the Republicans. "Their economic policies, John McCain's and George Bush's, have been proven job killers," she said.

Democrats are watching closely how Mrs Palin performs on the campaign trail and before the world's reporters, from whom she has so far been largely protected. They are also looking forward to the vice-presidential debate on 2 October between her and Joe Biden.

Risking the wrath of her viewers, Oprah Winfrey meanwhile made it known she will resist having Mrs Palin on her talk show at least for the time being, apparently for fear it would undermine her favoured candidate, Mr Obama.

There were indications that the impact of Mrs Palin might have been overstated. An ABC poll held encouraging news for Mr Biden, with 66 per cent of respondents saying he would be ready to serve as president. Only 21 per cent thought he was not. In the case of Mrs Palin, only 42 per cent said she was ready.

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