Ahead in polls, Obama tempers supporters
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Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama opened a 19-day sprint to Election Day with Obama surging ahead in polls after a contentious final debate. He has warned his supporters against 'giddy' complacency.
Barack Obama warned supporters against "giddy" complacency Thursday, before plunging into the 19-day home stretch of the White House race with snap polls awarding him yet another debate victory.
The front-running Democrat largely dodged a fierce barrage of attacks from feisty Republican John McCain in their third and last clash before the foes begin blitzing battleground states ahead of the November 4 election.
Obama invoked the trauma of his primary defeat in New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton in January which came as euphoria and expectations exploded around his campaign after a stunning lead-off victory in the Iowa caucuses.
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"For those of you who are feeling giddy or cocky or think this is all set, I just have two words for you: New Hampshire," said Obama, who is in a dominant position in national and local polls, at a breakfast fundraiser in New York.
"I've been in these positions before when we were favored and the press starts getting carried away and we end up getting spanked."
"That's another good lesson that Hillary Clinton taught me, so we want to make sure that we are closing strong, running through the tape."
Probably not coincidentally, Obama was headed directly Thursday to New Hampshire, where Clinton's victory locked the nominating race into a grim six-month struggle, and which is now a general election toss-up state.
McCain meanwhile landed in Pennsylvania and was later heading to nearby New Jersey, two states which he had been hoping to peel out of the Democratic column but which look more and more solid for Obama.
Most snap polls after the debate gave Obama a clear victory, as he stayed cool under a broadside of McCain attacks on his character and policies, designed to rescue the Republican's flagging campaign.
In CNN's poll, 58 percent of respondents said Obama won the debate compared to 31 for McCain, with 70 percent saying Obama was more likeable. A CBS poll scored the debate 53-22 percent for the Democrat.
A survey by the Politico web newspaper said however that Obama only shaded out a narrow victory, 49 percent to 46 percent and a debate's impact usually takes several days to settle in opinion polls.
McCain used the debate to make his most effective attempt yet to frustrate Obama's efforts to link the Arizona senator with the unpopular legacy of his fellow Republican President George W. Bush.
"Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain said, proclaiming his record of bucking the Republican line in contrast to Obama's inexperience.
McCain, down a hefty 14 points in one poll as the United States weathers its worst financial crisis in decades, savaged Obama's ties to 1960s radical William Ayers and said his tax plans were nothing more than "class warfare."
Obama accused McCain of trying to distract voters on a day that New York's Dow Jones share index posted its second-biggest points fall ever on mounting fears of a crippling US recession.
McCain, 72, said he did not care about "an old washed-up terrorist" like Ayers, once a bomb-throwing militant in the Weather Underground group who is now a Chicago professor of education.
"But as Senator (Hillary) Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of the relationship with you," he said, glaring at Obama seated on the other side of a narrow table at Hofstra University in New York state.
McCain also assailed the liberal group ACORN, which is accused in several states of adding fraudulent names to pro-Obama voter registration lists, and chided Obama for persistently linking him to President George W. Bush.
Obama, 47, accused McCain of wildly distorting the truth over both Ayers and ACORN, and said voters were turned off by the "100-percent negative" tone taken by the Republican's campaign at a time of rampant economic anxiety.
"I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks," the Illinois senator added during one of several spirited clashes in the 90-minute debate, which also encompassed abortion, energy, health care and education.
"What the American people can't afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies and what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what is most pressing to them, the economic crisis."
Both men appealed to "Joe the Plumber," or Toledo, Ohio resident Joe Wurzelbacher, who found instant fame when he bumped into Obama during a round of door-to-door canvassing and expressed concerns about Obama's tax plan.
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