After a handshake and the briefest of embraces in a church full of evangelical Christians, Democrat Barack Obama quickly took off the gloves and was again battering John McCain as little different from President George W. Bush.
The first-term Illinois senator also laid into the campaign team of his four-term Senate colleague from Arizona on Sunday for using "the same old folks that brought you George W. Bush" to paint Obama as unpatriotic and weak.
Obama, who has been put on the defensive by a series of attacks on his character, experience and readiness for the presidency, has been responding to the McCain accusations blow for blow.
McCain has sought to make the 2008 presidential contest a referendum on Obama, while trying to duck his associations with Bush, who has become deeply unpopular with voters disenchanted
with 5 1/2 years of war in Iraq and a badly stumbling economy.
Before a crowd of several hundred union members in Reno, Nevada, Obama said the American economy was a disaster and blamed "John McCain's president, George W. Bush."
And Obama lashed out at McCain's recent conversion on lifting a quarter-century ban on offshore oil and natural gas exploration, calling it poll-driven. McCain says drilling for energy supplies in American coastal waters is now necessary as a step in bringing
down energy prices and as part of a larger plan to reduce U.S.
oil imports. Obama and most energy experts say supplies from offshore drilling will be years in coming to market and would have little, if any, effect on the price of gasoline or home
"McCain says 'Here's my plan, I'm going to drill here, drill now,' which is something he only came up with two months ago when he started looking at polling," Obama said.
McCain did not make any campaign appearances Sunday. He was in Florida for a fund-raising event which was canceled as Tropical Storm Fay moved toward the state.
On Monday, McCain was to go to Orlando to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, which should provide a warm reception to the former fighter pilot who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner in North Vietnam. Obama was scheduled to speak on Tuesday, followed
by Bush on Wednesday.
Obama defended his opponent on that front Sunday when a voter at the Reno town hall session criticized McCain's Vietnam era record.
"Respectfully I'm going to disagree with you on McCain and his service," Obama said. "I think his service was honorable. He deserves respect."
While trying to link McCain policies to those of the unpopular Bush, Obama also said his opponent had resorted to campaign tactics the current president used in defeating former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and Sen. John Kerry four years later.
"They say this other guy is unpatriotic, or this guy likes French people. That's what they said about Kerry," who narrowly lost to Bush in 2004. "They try to make it out like Democrats aren't tough enough, aren't macho enough. It's the same strategy."