JEFFERSON, Iowa -- White House hopeful Barack Obama came out swinging Monday when asked if he would fight another "stolen presidential election" like some Democrats believe happened the last two times.
But his "fighting" stance contrasts sharply with the vote he took on his very first day in the U.S. Senate where he joined the 74-1 majority voting not to challenge President Bush's disputed victory in Ohio. The Congressional Black Caucus urged him to be the second "yes" vote, but he declined.
At a town hall meeting in rural Jefferson on Monday, undecided voter Bruce Banister, 56, asked Obama, "The last two presidential elections have been very dirty, and for me there have been very serious questions about whether George Bush was even legally elected. I want to know if we have another dirty election and you are the candidate, if you think it is dirty, will you back off like Gore and Kerry did or will you fight?"
Obama replied, "I intend to whoop 'em so good that it won't even be close and they can't steal the election."
After sustained cheers, laughter and applause, Obama added that he would hope to win over enough independents and Republicans in the general election that, "We aren't going to have 47 percent on one side, 47 percent on the other side, 5 percent in the middle and they all live in Ohio and Florida so you only campaign in two states."
Then Obama gave the hard-charging answer Banister was looking for: "If for any reason this thing is close, we will fight it tooth and nail till the end. The nice thing is, I'm a voting-rights attorney as well as a civil rights attorney."
That was enough to persuade Banister, a rare-guitar dealer, to commit to supporting Obama over his other choice, John Edwards, in Thursday night's caucus.
All the main candidates hoping to win Thursday's caucuses criss-crossed the state Monday seeking to win over undecideds like Banister. Obama is locked in an apparent three-way tie with fellow Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
Obama did not mention in his answer to Banister the controversy that greeted him on his first day in the Senate. He faced angering party leaders on his first day by voting not to join Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and African-American congressmen in rejecting the vote totals from Ohio, where Democrats say faulty voting machines and bad voter-registration policies threw the close election to Bush.
Obama said through chief strategist David Axelrod that he voted to accept the results because Kerry himself said he did not want to fight it.
At his first three events Monday, Obama faced questions from undecided voters about what he would do to stop illegal immigration. Obama said he would tighten the borders and crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens but would also support a "path to citizenship" for those already here.