Back from his Hawaiian vacation, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has sharpened his attacks on his opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., with a new sense of urgency and a new message.
His once obligatory mention that McCain "is a genuine American hero" was gone today, as he addressed 1,800 supporters at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque.
McCain "said my plan would cause a major economic disaster," Obama said. "Mr. McCain, the economic disaster is happening right now, maybe you haven't noticed."
Obama's sharp rhetoric concerning his Republican opponent centers on domestic issues, and highlights the Democrat's current campaign message: A McCain presidency would just continue the policies of President Bush.
"Basically, what John McCain's done is he's hired the same old folks who brought you George W. Bush," Obama said during a town hall meeting in Reno, Nev., Sunday afternoon.
As Obama began a swing through states Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lost during his 2004 presidential run, including Nevada and New Mexico -- he will also visit Florida, North Carolina and Virginia -- he argued that McCain not only supports Bush's policies, but that he's intent on continuing them.
"They don't have something positive to say about what they're going to do for America. What they try to do is, they say, 'Well, this other guy, he's unpatriotic,' or 'This other guy, he likes French people.' That's what they said about Kerry," Obama said.
McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said in response that "after being upstaged at the Saddleback Compassion Forum, Barack Obama has adjusted his stump remarks into a hysterical litany of political attacks."
Obama chief strategist David Axelrod told ABC News that "this race has always been about more of the same versus change that works, particularly around the economy."
While many pundits have said this election is a referendum on Obama, according to Axelrod, "Ultimately, this race was always going to be a referendum on the economy and the Republicans' management of the economy. We knew we had to take a little bit of a detour to make the trip," he said, referring to Obama's international trip, which McCain seized as an opportunity to portray Obama as a jet-setting shallow celebrity.
Some Democrats feel Obama's attacks today are overdue; there's a sense that he hasn't effectively stood-up to Republicans. Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Frank Rich chided Obama for being "excessively genteel." Obama supporters across the country, as well as in Washington, seem to agree.
According to Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who served as a strategist for Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, the focus on this election needs to be on George Bush, John McCain, and McCain's support for Bush's policies. Mellman says that, in the last few weeks, the Arizona senator has successfully shifted the focus onto Barack Obama, and Obama needs to shift it back.
McCain has portrayed Obama as an effete, shallow, elitist celebrity who is anti-troops, responsible for the country's energy crisis, and most recently, a flip-flopping politician who puts his self-interest before his county.
"Behind all of these claims and positions by Sen. Obama lies the ambition to be president," McCain said today in his speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla.
"I give them credit," Axelrod said. "I think they've been clever and effective in throwing a bunch of stink bombs out there and having you guys follow them like firedogs."
McCain's attacks, coupled with some of Obama's self-inflicted wounds, mean that Obama feels he needs to convince voters he is one of them.
"My story is your story. We have a common story of previous generations working hard so we can have a better life," Obama said in Reno.
At a closed-door fundraiser in San Francisco, Sunday night, Obama told hand-wringing supporters to "keep your stress to a minimum." For many Democrats, that is proving difficult.
ABC News' Sunlen Miller, Andrew Fies, Avery Miller and Natalie Gewargis contributed to this report.