Obama, in Montana, Puts Focus on McCain

Sen. Barack Obama visits Montana and will spend Tuesday in Iowa — essentially ignoring upcoming primaries in Kentucky and Oregon. Obama, the Democratic frontrunner, is focusing on the fall race against the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now we turn to Barack Obama's day. NPR's Don Gonyea is with the Obama campaign in Montana. And so, Don, why Montana?

DON GONYEA: Montana has a Democratic primary on June 3rd. And it will be the last day of the primary season, and Senator Obama expects to do well here, as he has done in places like Idaho. So he just held a big town hall meeting at Billings West High School. We got interrupted by school bells a couple of times. But he's taken this right to the end. And the other thing is does is it allows him to look forward. Oregon and Kentucky vote tomorrow. He spent the weekend in Oregon - huge crowds there. Kentucky is, you know, considered big time Hillary Clinton country. So they're not spending a lot of time with the voting there tomorrow.

NORRIS: And as he looks forward, he seems to be talking a lot more about John McCain than about Hillary Clinton. Before we go on, let's hear a quick clip of what he had to say in that speech today.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): John McCain looked at George Bush's economic record and said he had made great progress. Now I suspect he wasn't talking to the hundreds of thousands of people who've already lost their jobs since the beginning of this year. He's not talking to the people who've lost their jobs because everything's been shipped overseas. He's not talking to folks who don't have healthcare. He's not talking to the millions of folks who are at risk of losing their home. He's not talking to you. I don't think we've made great progress. You don't think we've made great progress. And that's why we are going to be united to make sure that John McCain doesn't make great progress in going to the White House. We're going to be united on that.

NORRIS: Don, the campaign seems to be very careful not to cast Obama as the nominee, but is that part of the strategy here, to leave Hillary Clinton out of the conversation?

GONYEA: The only time Hillary Clinton came up today was when Obama said we still have a number of contests before we secure the nomination. And he called Hillary Clinton a fighter who's running a tough campaign. But the focus here really is on John McCain. As we heard in that clip, on foreign policy, he is also tying John McCain very closely to George W. Bush and Iraq. We heard President Bush last week in Israel issue that statement about those who would appease Iran and negotiate with terrorists. Well, Senator Obama directly responded to that again here today. He said we do need to talk to countries like Iran in the way that we talked to the Soviet Union and other threats over the years, the way John F. Kennedy, you know, negotiated with the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He says we cannot be afraid to do that.

NORRIS: Now after the primaries in Kentucky and Oregon, there had been talk that the Obama campaign was staging a really big rally. First, they talked about doing this in Chicago. They're actually now planning to hold this rally in Iowa. Why Iowa, and why are they saying this night is so important?

GONYEA: Iowa contains great symbolism. First, it's an important swing state that the Democrats really feel they do need to carry in the fall. For Barack Obama, it is also the scene of his first big victory of the caucus and primary season, when he won the Iowa caucus, a big, unexpected victory that really set him on the way. And they will be talking tomorrow night about having won the majority of the pledged delegates after the Oregon and Kentucky results are in, delegates that were at stake in voting during primary and caucus season. They say that is an important milestone, even if he will still at that point be, you know, a bit short of actually officially securing the nomination.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Don Gonyea, speaking to us from Montana. Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you. My pleasure.

NORRIS: And you can find a detailed preview of tomorrow's primaries in Kentucky and Oregon at npr.org/elections.

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