The Barack Obama campaign shifted into a lower gear Sunday in Reno.
The man who will accept the Democratic nomination for president in just nine days was doing his best to campaign like the man he hopes to replace.
Obama was fresh off a vacation in Hawaii. It may seem more elite than a Texas ranch, but home is home, after all.
He strode into Reno with a canned event — invited guests only for a "town hall meeting" on the economy. At least he doesn’t pre-screen the questions the way Bush did.
Obama also reached out to try to take control of the message. He didn’t want to talk about Russia, or his vice presidential selection, or the current best-seller that will soon be used as fodder for an attempted "Swift-Boating."
Obama didn’t even want to talk about his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain.
Instead, Obama’s campaign reached out to talk about the hot-button issue of gender pay equity. And in a five-minute phone interview, Obama didn’t even chuckle at my futile attempt to get in one veep question.
After all, if gender equity was his issue of the day, wasn’t it just a sop to disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters and a signal that he wasn’t going to select a woman as his running mate? I thought it was fair question and sort of related to gender equity.
"That’s a roundabout way of trying to ask me my vice presidential selection," Obama said, sharply. "That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve said before I’m not going to talk about my vice presidential nominee until I actually introduce that person, which will be soon."
Then for good measure, he threw in some more of his estrogen bona fides. "This is an issue that I’ve been working on for more than a decade now," said Obama, who was raised by a single mom and a grandmother who watched several promotions at her banking job go to male employees.
When Obama was a state senator in Illinois he "stood up for equal pay," adding 330,000 women to legal protections from paycheck discrimination.
In the U.S. Senate he has supported a measure seeking to get around the Supreme Court’s decision in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire — a ruling that makes it harder for women to challenge pay discrimination at work.
Obama said he wasn’t simply raising the gender pay disparity (women on average earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with male counterparts) as an olive branch to Clinton supporters. "It isn’t, and the reason is that today more than half of all American families get 50 percent or more of their income from the woman who works," Obama said. "So this has now become a family issue. It’s a matter of equity, fairness. … It has enormous impact on not just the women involved, but on their families."
Gender pay therefore gets wrapped into Obama’s more general platform to improve the lives of women and families.
That platform includes greater access to health care, and more focus on HIV/AIDS, certain cancers and mercury pollution. He’s also very pro-choice and very against domestic violence.
Obama also would try to bring greater flexibility to the Family and Medical Leave Act, encouraging states to pay for leave and expanding it to include elder care needs and 24 hours of children’s academic activities. Nevada already does that one.
But Obama also would mandate that employers give each employee seven paid sick days a year.
Given that McCain is on the air constantly in Nevada warning that electing Obama will lead to higher taxes, I asked Obama if the Republican critics have a point.
"Look, this isn’t a matter of nanny state liberalism, it’s a matter of common-sense American fairness," Obama said. "The fact of the matter is people get sick; their family members get sick. There are far too many people who don’t have any days off — they can’t afford to take them off," he added. "For us to say to employers that they need to give employees seven days off, I don’t think there’s anything liberal about that — if we’re serious about family values."
A proposal such as the paid sick days is the type that will resonate in the anti-tax echo chamber as much as Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. And drowned out by that cacophony is a fact that most voters won’t hear: His overall tax plan is better for most Nevada families.
Obama’s income tax plan would increase taxes on those earning more than $250,000, and on capital gains; but provide more relief to middle Americans. Seniors earning less than $50,000 would pay nothing.
He would create new tax credits and would expand the child and dependent care tax credits.
We’ll have to wait to see whether Obama’s decision to talk about the economy will actually help him. And more importantly, whether he’ll be able to control the message.
Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at email@example.com.