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Obama says rivals’ call for gas tax suspension pure politics

By MIKE GLOVER and BETH FOUHY
Associated Press Writers

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama argued on Tuesday that his rivals’ call for a summer-long suspension of the federal gas tax is “designed to get them through an election” and would not help struggling consumers.

“The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is tell you exactly what you want to hear,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery.

The plan first proposed by likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain calls for suspending the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton also supports the idea, and implied on Monday that Obama doesn’t understand that consumers need some relief.

The gas tax proved to be a long-running issue as Obama and Clinton campaigned in North Carolina, one week before its primary. Clinton picked up a major endorsement, the backing of the state’s governor, Mike Easley.

Appearing onstage with Clinton and his wife, Mary, the two-term Democrat declared the New York senator “gets it.”

“It’s time for somebody to be in the White House who understands the challenges we face in this country,” Easley said, adding a gentle dig at rival Barack Obama’s signature slogan of hope.

“There’s been lots of ‘Yes we can, yes we should.’ Hillary Clinton is ready to deliver,” Easley said.

Easley is term-limited and will leave office early next year. Both Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to replace him have endorsed Obama, whom polls show with a substantial lead over Clinton in the state.

Clinton, in turn, praised Easley as a champion of economic development in his state.

“The governor and I have something in common ó we think results matter,” Clinton said.

Easley is popular among white, working-class Democrats in the state, whom Obama has been eager to woo. He is also one of the all-important “superdelegates” likely to choose the party’s nominee if both Obama and Clinton fail to secure enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination.

Easley is the second North Carolina superdelegate to endorse Clinton. Obama has the backing of six of the 17 superdelegates in the state.

Obama was slated to win the backing of another superdelegate, Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler. The state holds its primary May 20. The Chandler name is one of the most famous in Kentucky politics. Ben Chandler’s grandfather, A.B. “Happy” Chandler, was twice elected governor, served in the U.S. Senate and was commissioner of baseball.

In his prepared remarks, Obama was continuing a running dispute over whether ending collection of the gas tax is the quickest and best way to help consumers. Leading in delegates and the popular vote, Obama in recent days has focused on McCain, but he broadened that criticism Tuesday to include Clinton.

“Now the two Washington candidates in the race have been attacking me lately because I don’t support their idea of a gas tax holiday,” Obama said.

He argued that suspending the gas tax collections would undercut highway construction, costing North Carolina up to 7,000 jobs, while saving consumers little.

“We’re arguing over a gimmick that would save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say they did something,” Obama said.

Clinton planned a series of campaign events in Indiana, which also holds its primary next Tuesday. The secretary of state’s office said nearly 90,000 people have cast early ballots, far outpacing the total number of absentee votes during the last presidential primary in 2004.

The Indiana Secretary of State’s office reports 89,408 people have voted early with their county clerk’s office or by mail-in ballots through Monday. Fewer than 57,000 such votes were cast four years ago.

At stake Tuesday are 115 delegates in North Carolina and 72 in Indiana.

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