McCain and Obama trade blows before second debate
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Before the second presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, McCain accused Obama of being furtive about his past, and Obama recalled McCain's links to the 1980s saving and loan crisis.
Republican John McCain on Monday accused White House rival Barack Obama of blurring his past and offering no track record to point a way out of America's deepening economic crisis, as new polls showed Democrat Obama commanding a consistent lead.
A Gallup survey released Monday found Obama holding a lead over McCain for the tenth straight day, pushing his lead to an eight-point advantage with just 29 days left to the November 4 election.
A CNN poll echoed Gallup's findings, with likely voters holding the Illinois senator with a 53 percent lead over 45 percent for McCain.
With the stakes rising, campaign tempers are heating up as the candidates head in to Tuesday's "town hall" clash, the second of their three debates.
On the eve of their battle in Nashville, Tennessee, McCain said the electioneering was drawing to a close and it was almost time to choose.
"The question is: in what direction will we go?" McCain asked a New Mexico rally.
"Will our country be a better place under the leadership of the next president -- a more secure, prosperous, and just society?
"Will you be better off, in the jobs you hold now and in the opportunities you hope for," he asked.
McCain again questioned Obama's readiness for the job, saying: "For a guy who's already authored two memoirs, he's not exactly an open book.
"All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America? In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?
"But ask such questions and all you get in response is another barrage of angry insults."
Obama, responding to his portrayal by McCain's campaign as a crony of "terrorists," fought fire with fire by highlighting his opponent's embroilment in a devastating 1980s financial scandal.
The Democrat's camp said the Republican was desperately trying to divert attention from his "erratic" handling of the US financial crisis by resorting to character assassination.
Speaking to reporters in Asheville, North Carolina, Obama noted that global markets were again plummeting and the contagion was spreading to banks in Europe, and that voters wanted to hear policy solutions during the upcoming debate.
So he said he was "surprised" to see an unidentified McCain strategist tell the New York Daily News that "if we keep talking about the economic crisis, we lose."
"I've got news for the McCain campaign, the American people are losing right now, they're losing their jobs, they're losing their health care, they're losing their homes, they’re losing their savings," the Democrat said.
"I cannot imagine anything more important to talk about than the economic crisis and the notion that we'd want to brush that aside and engage in the usual political shenanigans and scare tactics that have come to characterize too many political campaigns, I think is not what the American people are looking for."
The McCain campaign has unleased a blitz of negative ads to cast the Illinois senator as a radical liberal who would endanger the lives of US troops abroad and usher in a new era of interventionist, tax-raising government.
For the third day running, the Republican's camp hammered away at Obama's ties to professor of education William Ayers, a bomb-throwing militant during the Vietnam War.
Observers say the pair had only a loose relationship in Chicago's milieu of charity and politics.
But McCain's running mate Sarah Palin, who is leading the charge, said the Democrat was consorting with an "unrepentant terrorist."
Interviewed by African-American radio host Tom Joyner, Obama retorted: "If Senator McCain wants to have a character debate, I am happy to have that debate."
Obama rolled out a new broadcast and email onslaught recalling McCain's connection to jailed tycoon Charles Keating, the collapse of whose savings and loan firm wiped out the savings of many elderly retirees.
McCain was part of a group of lawmakers known as the "Keating Five" that received gifts and favors from the businessman and intervened with regulators to insist his company was in good health before it collapsed.
McCain escaped with a formal censure by the Senate in 1991 but spoke of the searing embarrassment caused by the scandal and went on to become a crusader for ethics reform. Overall, the US government had to spend 124 billion dollars to bail out the entire savings and loan industry.
• Photos: campaign at a glance
• The issues: compare the candidates' platforms
• US electoral map
"When you read the fine print, it's clear that John McCain is pulling an old Washington bait and switch. It's a shell game," Obama said of McCain's plan to reform health insurance.
"He gives you a tax credit with one hand but he raises your taxes with the other," the senator from Illinois told a crowd of about 18,000 supporters.
McCain's campaign shot back.
"Barack Obama is lying to voters," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "It's a bald-faced lie."
Both campaigns say they will improve access to health insurance and make care more affordable. On Saturday, both campaigns derided the other's plan as "radical."
The sharp exchange came as the more than year-long campaign enters the last month before the election.
New polls show Obama has solidified his national lead and gained an edge in crucial battleground states in recent weeks as the Wall Street crisis focused the attention of voters on the economy.
Now, McCain and Obama want to bring voter attention back to their policies and how their visions for America differ.
McCain and Obama will get to talk in person about health insurance and other issues on Tuesday when they meet for the second of three nationally televised presidential debates, this one in Nashville, Tennessee.
With expectations high that the U.S. crisis, which has created turbulence in global financial markets, might tip the world's richest economy into recession, President George W. Bush said Americans should not expect a quick fix.
"My administration will move as quickly as possible, but the benefits of this package will not all be felt immediately," Bush, a Republican whose two terms in office will end in January, said in his weekly radio address.
Responding for the Democrats, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said the loss of 760,000 U.S. jobs so far in 2008 showed that ordinary people had felt the pinch of a slowing economy all year and likened McCain to Bush.
"John McCain just doesn't get it. He hasn't said one thing he'd do to make his economy look any different than George Bush's economy," Strickland said.
In Colorado, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said she was not concerned about polls showing McCain trailing Obama in many battleground states, including several won by Republicans in the last presidential election in 2004.
Joking that the "heels are off," Palin launched into an aggressive assault on Obama, accusing him of "palling around with terrorists" and calling him an embarrassment.
She cited a New York Times story on Saturday examining Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Vietnam-era militant Weather Underground organization who is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Times concluded they were not close.
"Our opponent though is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough that is he palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?" Palin told a fund-raiser in Englewood, Colorado.
Recent polls show McCain, an Arizona senator, in a dogfight in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Missouri and Indiana. All were won by Bush in 2004 and McCain cannot afford to lose them as he tries to piece together the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House.
Palin, the governor of Alaska, said she would like the chance to campaign in Michigan, won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004, after McCain announced on Thursday he was pulling staff and advertising from the Midwestern state for the final push to the Nov. 4 election.
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