ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Barack Obama isn't John McCain's only opponent. Sometimes McCain sounds like he's running almost as hard against President Bush and the Republican Party as he is against Obama, his Democratic rival for the White House.
The GOP is guilty of indulging in a spending spree of taxpayers' money, McCain laments. It hasn't solved huge problems such as the looming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare, passing on huge IOUs and perplexing issues to future generations instead of fixing them as promised. He doesn't name Bush but the implication is clear: It happened on his watch and he signed bills that made the deficit soar.
"We began to value power over principle," McCain said in Colorado Springs, Colo. Some lawmakers turned corrupt and wound up in jail, he told a rally in Albuquerque, N.M.
"Change is coming, change is coming," McCain promised, projecting an image of independence and political populism.
One of his challenges is to separate himself from the unpopular incumbent in the White House and fight against Obama's charge that a McCain presidency would amount to a third term for Bush.
"On the core issues, the economy and the war, he has been joined to Bush at the hip," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. "On the other hand, Bush is a lead weight dragging him down. He has to rely on rhetoric to separate (himself) but he can't separate himself on policies important to the American people."
Eager to keep control of the White House, Republicans are keeping their mouths shut about McCain's barbs.
McCain's criticism rankles White House officials who are eager to build up Bush's legacy. They are quick to strike hard at anything they perceive as criticism from almost any quarter, particularly the news media. But Bush aides are giving McCain a free pass even as they quietly grumble about how pointed his attacks have become.