by John McCormick, updated
BETTENDORF, Iowa – As Sen. Barack Obama kicked off his “Change You Can Believe In” bus tour here, he wasn't kidding.
The Illinois Democrat used "change" or some version of the word at least 21 times during a speech that last only about 28 minutes.
In one sentence, he used the word four times: "To stand up for these Americans, I don’t want to settle for anything less than real change, fundamental change – change we need – change that we can believe in."
The suggestion, of course, is that other Democratic primary candidates talking change may not be up to the task, as Obama hinted himself, saying they are "targeting different messages to different audiences."
That was a clear shot at Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who Obama has aggressively challenged in recent weeks, in part by suggesting she is taking squishy, general-election positions on issues ranging from Social Security to ethanol.
Obama's policy speech here at an area education agency sought to further outline his positions on issues that directly affect the middle class. And, as he is prone to do, he repeatedly wove his own biography into the storyline.
But Clinton and her husband's administration were never far away.
"These problems didn’t start when George Bush came to office and they won’t end just because he’s leaving," Obama said. "We’re not going to reclaim that dream unless we put an end to the politics of polarization and division that is holding this country back."
In terms of specific proposals, there was not a lot new from what Obama has said in past economic speeches and debates.
He called for guaranteed sick days for all workers, saying 40 percent of working women do not have a single paid sick day.
"More and more women are denied jobs or promotions because they’ve got kids at home," Obama said. "As the son of a single mother, that is not the America that I believe in."
Obama also called for a new annual tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees for college students.
Ignoring the prepared version of his remarks, which said he would increase the minimum wage every year, Obama said he would keep the wage competitive with the cost of living.
"I won’t wait ten years to raise the minimum wage," he said. "I’ll guarantee that it goes up to keep pace with inflation, so American workers aren't falling behind."
Obama told his audience of several hundred that change does not come easily.
"There has been a lot of talk in this campaign about the politics of hope. But, understand this: the politics of hope doesn’t mean hoping that things come easy. It’s a politics that believes in things unseen; of believing in what this country might be; and of standing up for that belief and fighting for it precisely when it’s hard," he said.
As he increasingly does these days, Obama also made a point of asking for the votes of those in the room.
"It’s time to reclaim the American dream," he said. "I want to do that as president of the United States and I hope you decide to help me make that dream happen."
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, had its own take on Obama's message of change.
“Senator Obama continues to talk about the ‘change’ he will bring as president, and Republicans agree because we know if he is elected and able to increase taxes, all that Americans will have left in their pockets is change,” the RNC said in a statement.