ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Barack Obama has emerged from a week-long family vacation with a little bit of a cold, but also with a more confrontational campaign strategy. It includes going public with new attacks and trying to turn Republican attacks - and even John McCain's own jokes - back at him.
Obama, who in recent weeks has faced complaints from Democrats questioning whether his campaign is hitting back hard enough, in the last couple days has come out with guns blazing, mocking Republican attacks and confidently predicting he'll be able to beat them back.
His campaign brushes off suggestions that he's shifted tack heading into the next week's Democratic convention. But the campaign itself has gone public with the kind of detailed opposition research attacks it had previously been pushing only behind the scenes, including one suggesting that McCain has a "woman problem" and another linking the presumptive GOP nominee to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The result is an aggressive strategy that seems to court conflict and taunt McCain.
On Sunday at a Reno, Nev. town hall, Obama suggested that McCain's recent decision to push for offshore drilling was driven by polls.
The next day, Obama noted to 1,800 supporters gathered in a high school gym that McCain could be indirectly linked to an independent attack book by the author of "Unfit for Command," a book questioning 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry's military service.
"This may not be directly affiliated with the campaign," Obama said, "but you know suddenly, magically, you've got the same guy who wrote "Unfit for Command" - he comes out with a book saying I'm a nut, and you know, people are questioning my patriotism. John McCain himself personally said I'd rather lose the war so I can win an election."
Obama on Monday also began seizing on an apparent joke McCain made in a joint forum at an evangelical California mega-church over the weekend to suggest McCain is out of touch on the economy.
The pastor of the church, Rick Warren, in asking McCain a tax-related question, said, "Where do you move from middle class to rich?"
After talking about how money can't buy happiness, McCain said, "So, I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?"
But Obama, citing the answer in Albuquerque, said, "This explains why his tax plan gives hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks to people making more than $2.5 million. I guess they're middle class."
McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds accused Obama of unveiling "a hysterical litany of political attacks" to make up for "being upstaged" at the mega-church event.
Though Obama told donors at a San Francisco fundraiser Sunday night that the electoral landscape favors him - and boldly predicted, "I will win. Don't worry about that" - he has taken to warning supporters to brace for an onslaught of vicious attacks, which he has sought to link to McCain.
"Look, you know, we shouldn't be surprised," he told the crowd at the Albuquerque high school. "They've been doing this every election. They did it to John Kerry. They did it to Gore. They tried to do it to Clinton, they tried. They did it to Dukakis. That's what they do. That's their politics. They don't know how to govern, but they know how to run a negative campaign."
But, he said, "it's not going to work this time. It's not going to work because there's too much at stake and you know there's too much at stake."
Early in the day, he told a small gathering of supporters at an Albuquerque library: "We're going to have to hit back and we're going to have to fight hard and we're going to have to work hard."
Sniffling periodically during the event, he told the crowd, "the only thing about daughters is that when you hang out with them a lot and they get a cold, somehow they end up passing it off to you.quot;