AUSTIN - Democratic candidate Barack Obama said yesterday the economy is "on the brink of a recession" and blamed policies espoused by President Bush and Republican presidential contender John McCain.
Mr. Obama mocked a more optimistic economic picture painted by Mr. Bush at a White House news conference moments earlier: "People are struggling in the midst of an economy that George Bush says is not a recession, but is experienced differently by folks on the ground."
For the second day in a row, Mr. Obama focused on the likely GOP nominee Mr. McCain and all but ignored Hillary Rodham Clinton's continuing campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, although key Democratic primaries come up Tuesday in Texas and Ohio.
"We are not standing on the brink of recession because of forces beyond our control," Mr. Obama told a town hall forum in Austin. "This was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership in Washington - a Washington where George Bush hands out billions of tax cuts to the wealthiest few for eight long years, and John McCain promises to make those same tax cuts permanent, embracing the central principle of the Bush economic program."
In remarks Obama aides suggested were a rebuke to Mr. McCain as well as Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama said more is needed than just "to change faces in the White House," but that the country "needs a change of leadership"
The Illinois senator spoke shortly after Mr. Bush told a news conference in Washington that the country is not headed into a recession. While expressing concern about slowing economic growth, Mr. Bush rejected for now any additional stimulus efforts.
"We've acted robustly," Mr. Bush said. His forecast was rosier than that of many mainstream economists.
Mr. Obama offered a sharply different view: "Despite the slogans, we've got millions of Americans that are being left behind."
He said he was "the only candidate in this race to propose a genuine middle-class tax cut." And he added, the nation needs as president a leader who "doesn't defend lobbyists as part of the system, but sees them as part of the problem."
In focusing on Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama is pursuing a strategy of acting as if the Democratic nomination were already his. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain sparred by long distance over Iraq.
Speaking later with reporters, Mr. Obama said he mentions Mr. McCain so much mainly because "it just seems like John McCain is talking about me a lot." He said he wasn't writing an obituary on Mrs. Clinton's candidacy.
He said the Ohio and Texas races are extraordinarily tight but suggested they weren't must-win states for him. He said if he comes out of Tuesday's four contests - including Rhode Island and Vermont - still leading Clinton by 100-150 pledged delegates, he would go to the convention with the most pledged delegates. He now has a lead of 151.5 pledged delegates.