KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Democrat Barack Obama turned out enormous crowds at his two stops in battleground Missouri on Saturday in what campaign aides said was a strategy of using his ability to command huge crowds as a way to build excitement heading into the final two weeks of the presidential campaign.
An estimated 100,000 people showed up in St. Louis Saturday morning to hear Obama speak at the Gateway Arch - the largest crowd ever to hear Obama in the United States.
Saturday evening, a crowd estimated at more than 75,000 thronged the Liberty Memorial near downtown Kansas City for another Obama rally.
With just 17 days to go before the election, campaign aides said they hope to turn out comparable crowds in other battleground states. Obama was headed to North Carolina on Sunday.
"This is the home stretch and our primary goal is to capture the excitement and energy that's surrounded this race," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. To turn out large crowds, the campaign is choosing outdoor venues with virtually unlimited capacity.
Good weather -: like Saturday's in Missouri - helps. Meanwhile, volunteers in dozens of Obama field offices in each of the battleground states are tapping phone and email lists to urge his supporters to turn out for the weekend rallies.
Republican John McCain also campaigned in two hotly contested states - North Carolina and Virginia - where the crowds were smaller, but the rhetoric was heated.
McCain used words like "welfare" and "socialism" to describe Obama's plans to raise taxes on businesses and Americans earning more than $250,000 and redistribute that in the form of cuts and credits to 95 percent of working families.
"Since you can't reduce taxes on those who pay zero, the government will write them all checks called a tax credit," McCain told a crowd estimated at 7,000 people, in Concord, N.C., criticizing Obama's plan. "And the Treasury will cover those checks by taxing other people."
In a Saturday morning radio address, McCain concluded that Obama's plan would turn the Internal Revenue Service into "a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington."
Obama adopted new rhetoric, saying McCain's plans to continue President Bush's tax cuts amounted to corporate welfare and reflected his values.
"It comes down to values," Obama said. "In America, do we simply value wealth, or do we value the work that creates it?"
Obama said McCain "is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare.' The only "welfare" in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America - including $4 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies that ran up record profits under George Bush."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who spoke at the St. Louis rally before Obama took the stage, criticized McCain running mate Sarah Palin's recent suggestion that some parts of the country are more pro-American than others. McCaskill went on to suggest Palin isn't particularly qualified to be vice president. And McCaskill said McCain's campaign is "mean, angry, personal, petty, small, bogus-attacks" and that "they're scared about the new voters, have you noticed?"
The only larger Obama event was the international audience of roughly 200,000 that turned out during Obama's summer visit to Berlin where he spoke about foreign policy.
"All I can say is, 'Wow," Obama said as he surveyed the crowd gathered at the edge of the Mississippi River, underneath the nation's tallest monument.
Joyce Jones, 62, a local volunteer said television stations had predicted a turnout of about half the size, or 50,000 people.
"It shows that people really want a change," she said. Jones said if she were McCain, watching the Obama rally on television, "I would think maybe there's something I haven't done right."
Another woman in the crowd, Jocelyn Harmon, 44, an auditor, said she isn't involved with the campaign and simply showed up to lend her support to the idea Obama could win Republican-leaning Missouri. "It is history, regardless of who wins," she said.
McCain continued to make references to Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, a Toledo, Ohio, man who'd recently asked Obama about his tax policies. Obama told Wurzelbacher he wants to "spread the wealth" around, which McCain has seized on to make his argument about Socialism.
McCain has attempted to make Wurzebacher a working-class poster boy for his campaign despite revelations following Wednesday's presidential debate that Wurzelbacher isn't a licensed plumber and owes back taxes.
Wurzelbacher, who told Obama that he was preparing to buy a company that makes between $250,000 and $280,000 and asked if the candidate's plan would tax him, also would benefit under Obama's plan, according to some analysts.
"At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," McCain said in his weekly radio address. "They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut it's just another government giveaway."
Talev reported from St. Louis, Douglas reported from Concord, N.C.