Updated YORK, Pa. – The political world may have been abuzz with talk of Gov. Sarah Palin in the wake of her prime-time introduction at the Republican convention, but Senator Barack Obama on Thursday worked to change the subject back to Senator John McCain, all but ignoring the newest figure in the presidential race.
“John McCain’s running for president. I’m running against John McCain,” Mr. Obama told reporters here. “As far as I can tell, I don’t get a sense that Governor Palin has ideas that are different from John McCain’s. That speech that she delivered was on behalf of John McCain.”
The answer, though, belied conversations going on among Democrats across the country on Thursday about how the party should treat Ms. Palin in the final two months of the general election campaign. Asked about the intense criticism of his biography and political record, Mr. Obama brushed aside any sense of worry, saying: “I’ve been called worse on the basketball court, so it’s not that big of a deal.”
Yet Democrats were urging Mr. Obama’s campaign not to underestimate the potential power of Ms. Palin’s speech and the fresh boost of energy that she has injected into the Republican ticket. The sharpest comment from Mr. Obama was to a question about whether Democrats or the media have treated Ms. Palin in a sexist manner in their coverage or conversations about her.
“The notion that any questions about her work in Alaska is somehow not relevant to her potentially being vice president of the United States doesn’t make too much sense to me,” Mr. Obama said. “I think she’s got a compelling story, but I assume that she wants to be treated the same way guys want to be treated, which means their records are under scrutiny.”
Senator Bob Casey Jr., Democrat of Pennsylvania, said it was too early to tell whether Ms. Palin’s candidacy would erode some suburban voters whom Democrats were hoping to draw this year given the state of the economy. He, too, said the party should keep its focus on Mr. McCain and his policies, not on the curiosity surrounding the sudden introduction of Ms. Palin on the national scene.
“One speech does not a candidacy or a campaign make,” Mr. Casey said in an interview. “We still have to see when she’s exposed to questions about Senator McCain’s ideas for the country and about her own record, so we don’t know how that will transpire.”
Earlier today, Mr. Obama said that he had been hearing more about himself at the Republican National Convention this week than about how his rivals intended to tackle the litany of domestic and foreign challenges facing the nation.
“You haven’t heard a word about how they’re going to deal with any aspect of the economy that is affecting you day to day,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to voters outside a hydropower plant here. “They’ve had a lot to say about me, but they haven’t had a word to say about you.”
Of all the millions of people tuning into the Republican gathering in Minnesota for the past two nights, one has been Mr. Obama. He watched portions of Gov. Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech from his Pittsburgh hotel room. He intends to watch Senator John McCain’s address on Thursday evening from Harrisburg.
Mr. Obama settled a question that has been circulating since the moment Ms. Palin’s speech ended: How would he respond to the filleting of his biography and political record? Would he aggressively respond or let others respond to an evening of blistering criticism?
In his opening remarks here, he barely mentioned her, instead accusing Republicans of failing to focus on the economy at their convention. So it was left to a voter here to raise the question about the experience argument between Ms. Palin and Mr. Obama.
“I’ll let Governor Palin talk about her experience and I’ll talk about mine,” Mr. Obama said, ticking through his accomplishments in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. Senate. As he criticized Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama said voters should focus instead on the proposals being put forward by both parties.
“The question you’ve got to ask yourself is: What’s our plans? What’s our agenda?” Mr. Obama said. Later, he added: “I don’t think that anybody here can name four specific things that John McCain would do to help your pocketbook. They’ve had a bunch of speakers. If they would have had any ideas, they would have put them out there by now.”
With that, Mr. Obama concluded his town meeting with voters and went to prepare for a first in his political career: Sitting down for an interview on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News Channel.
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