Barack Obama sharpened his attacks on John McCain and mocked the Republican's recent calls for reform in two stops in Nevada on Wednesday after days of listening to nervous supporters fret about the Democrat's chances of taking the White House.
"Sen. McCain bragged about how as chairman of the Commerce Committee in the Senate, he had oversight of every part of the economy. Well, all I can say to Sen. McCain is, 'Nice job. Nice job,"' Obama said at a rally at a baseball stadium in Las Vegas.
"Where is he getting these lines? The lobbyists running his campaign?"
Obama later added: "I'm not making this up, you can't make this up. It's like a 'Saturday Night Live' routine."
The feistier, more sarcastic tone came as worried Democrats urged Obama to get tougher and show more passion. Obama has tried to assure donors and voters that he's been schooled by Chicago politics.
"I'm skinny but I'm tough," he says.
But many of his supporters are upset that polls show the race is pretty much even, despite Obama running against a Republican who used to brag that he voted 90 percent of the time with the unpopular President Bush. The economy is teetering, and the country is still at war, but seven weeks from Election Day the race is far from the slam-dunk that Democrats dreamed about.
In swing-state Nevada, polls show McCain enjoying a small boost of momentum, though the race remains close. Obama's remarks Wednesday appeared to show new bite.
In a morning rally in the northern Nevada mining town of Elko, the Illinois senator derided McCain's response to Wall Street's meltdown.
"Yesterday, John McCain actually said that if he's president he'll take on -- and I quote -- 'the old boys network in Washington.'
I'm not making this up," Obama said. "This is somebody who's been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign.
"And now he tells us that he's the one who's going to take on the old boys network," Obama said. "The old boys network. In the McCain campaign that's called a staff meeting. Come on."
McCain generally has been more cutting in his own remarks, and he got more personal on Tuesday.
"Let's have some straight talk: Sen. Obama is not interested in the politics of hope; he's interested in his future. That's why he's hurling insults," McCain said as he and running mate Sarah Palin addressed a rally in Ohio.
In Elko, Obama tried to anticipate his critics and called on the crowd of about 1,500 to sharpen their elbows, too.
"I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face," he said.
"And if they tell you that, 'Well, we're not sure where he stands on guns.' I want you to say, 'He believes in the Second Amendment.' If they tell you, 'Well, he's going to raise your taxes,' you say, 'No, he's not, he's going lower them.' You are my ambassadors. You guys are the ones who can make the case."
Republicans answered Obama's swing in the West with two new radio ads airing in markets in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
One, airing on Spanish radio stations, questioned Obama's commitment to a failed immigration reform bill sponsored by McCain.
The ad does not mention that McCain has since backed away from his own bill, saying he would first concentrate on securing the borders.
The second ad notes McCain's opposition to federal earmarks and criticized Obama and running mate Joe Biden for requesting federal dollars for home state projects. Palin also has made such requests.
Obama also is running new Spanish-language advertising. One commercial airing in Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado links McCain to comments apparently hostile to immigrants made by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
In Las Vegas, Obama targeted his message to Hispanic and African-American voters. He promised to reform the health care system, create a teacher corps, reform bankruptcy laws and clean up the mortgage business.
"I will crack down on predatory lenders -- who all too often target the African-American community, target the Hispanic community -- with tough new penalties that treat mortgage fraud like the crime that it is," he said.
The policy notes and the taunts to his opponent were warmly received by a crowd estimated at 14,000 by the park's facilities director.
Some in the audience in Elko said they were satisfied with Obama's tone.
"I think he needs to keep doing exactly what he's doing, which is speak softly, show it through," said Paul Barnhart, a retired real estate appraiser. "I think most Americans are pretty fed up and sick and tired of the bickering and the battling back and forth. I am."
Holly Black, a special education teacher in Elko, agreed. "I don't believe in the trash-talking. I believe he is aggressive."
As for the tight campaign, David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, said, "We never anticipated anything but a close race and now (after the political conventions) it's settled back to where we expected it to be, which is a very close, competitive race."
"We have a lot of targets of opportunity in states that were Bush states in 2004," Axelrod said. "We expect to battle right to the end."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)