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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Candidate Barack Obama is meeting voters again after taking his campaign abroad and holding closed-door meetings with Democratic Party leaders in Washington. Senator Obama rode a bus across Missouri yesterday. He stopped at a barbecue. He chatted with voters, which was an opportunity to take some jabs at his Republican opponent, John McCain.

On a stop in Denver, McCain sounded all too happy to have Obama back on the trail. That report in a moment, but first, NPR's David Greene is traveling with the Obama campaign.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): All right. We're running low.

DAVID GREENE: After all the headlines about his foreign trip, Obama was looking for a way to tell voters he's happy to be back in the U.S. And what's more American than this?

Sen. OBAMA: Hot dog or a burger, Tom?

TOM: Burger.

Sen. OBAMA: Burger - you look like a burger kind of guy.

GREENE: He held a barbecue last night in Union, Missouri. Everyone gathered under a pavilion to escape the rain, and Obama handed out what was being advertised as change burgers. And as always, change was his theme when he spoke to the crowd.

Sen. OBAMA: We can't keep on doing business the same way we've been doing it. We've lost 468,000 jobs since the beginning of the year. We have seen more home foreclosures than any time since the Great Depression.

GREENE: The solution, he insisted, is not his opponent.

Sen. OBAMA: John McCain and the Republicans, they don't have any new ideas. That's why they're spending all their time talking about me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Maybe not all their time, but McCain and his allies have been ramping up their attacks. And Obama told the barbecue-goers they shouldn't expect the GOP to retreat.

Sen. OBAMA: They're going to try to say that I'm a risky guy. They're going to try to say, well, you know, he's got a funny name, and he doesn't look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five-dollar bills.

GREENE: The real risk, according to Obama, would be to rely on the same policies at a time when the economy is hurting. David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the Obama campaign.

SCOTT HORSLEY: And I'm Scott Horsley, traveling with the McCain campaign. At a town hall meeting outside Denver, McCain offered grudging praise for Barack Obama, saying he's as impressed as anyone with the Illinois senator's speaking ability.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): My concern with Senator Obama is that on issues big and small, what he says and what he does are often two different things. And he doesn't seem to understand that the policies he offers would make our problems worse and not better.

HORSLEY: And that's downright polite compared to McCain's latest TV ad, which suggests Obama has no policies at all to back up his growing fame. Campaign manager Rick Davis sought to explain the ad, which intercuts images of Obama with pictures of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Mr. RICK DAVIS (Campaign Manager for Senator John McCain): You know, apples to apples. Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you're ready to lead.

HORSLEY: In between attacks on Obama, McCain stressed his own agenda.

(Soundbite of machinery)

HORSLEY: He toured a heavy-equipment shop, where aging Caterpillar tractors are rebuilt for a second life. The veteran lawmaker is trying to sell himself as someone who can retool the federal government.

Sen. McCAIN: We need to change the way that government does almost everything, from the way we fuel our economy to the way we prepare our children for tomorrow's opportunities.

HORSLEY: That might sound like an odd message from someone who's different from President Bush on some issues, but also wants to extend the Bush tax cuts and stay the course in Iraq. McCain hopes to be seen as bringing just enough change to the government without the risk of a less-seasoned politician. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Racine, Wisconsin.

(Soundbite of music)

AMOS: This is NPR News.

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