MIAMI - With communities in the Midwest still under water, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama yesterday criticized Republican John McCain for opposing federal spending on flood prevention programs and opened a new debate in the White House race.
McCain's campaign said Obama was engaging in typical political attacks that the Democrat rejects in his speeches and is confusing the facts.
Both candidates have visited the flood zones in the past two weeks, since tornadoes hit and heavy rains sent rivers surging over their banks. At least 24 people were killed, the majority in Iowa.
Obama, an Illinois senator, canceled a visit to eastern Iowa last week at the request of state officials and instead went to fill sandbags in Quincy, Ill. McCain, an Arizona senator, toured flood damage in Iowa on Thursday.
"I know that Senator McCain felt as strongly as I did," Obama said, "feeling enormous sympathy for the victims of the recent flooding.
"I'm sure they appreciated the sentiment, but they probably would have appreciated it even more if Senator McCain hadn't opposed legislation to fund levees and flood control programs, which he considers pork."
Drawing on his years as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side, Obama told the US Conference of Mayors that while he intended to be a supportive partner if he wins the White House, the mayors should not count on significant additional help from Washington.
He also said Washington's ability to help the cities would be limited in part by a long-term federal budget deficit left by the Bush administration, which he called the most fiscally irresponsible administration in modern times.
Overall, 51 percent call the current state of race relations "good" or "excellent." At the same time, nearly 9 in 10 whites said they would be comfortable with a black president.
Just over half of whites in the new poll called Obama a "risky" choice for the White House, while two-thirds said John McCain is a "safe" pick. Forty-three percent of whites said Obama has sufficient experience to serve effectively.