McCain, a 26-year veteran of Congress with a long history of opposition to such regulation, now says more controls are needed to prevent a repeat of the financial turmoil that sent the stock market plunging this past week.
"There's only one candidate who's called himself 'fundamentally a deregulator' when deregulation is part of the problem," Obama said during an appearance at Bethune-Cookman University, arranged to highlight his campaign's effort to reach out to women voters.
Obama noted that McCain said in a trade publication that opening the health insurance market to more vigorous competition nationwide, as was done with the banking industry, would provide more choices.
"So let me get this straight," Obama said. "He wants to run health care like they've been running Wall Street. Well, Senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren't going to think that's a good idea."
Obama's characterization was a politically charged oversimplification of McCain's article for the American Academy of Actuaries, laying out his health plan. In the article, McCain wrote that people should be allowed to buy health insurance across state lines.
"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation," he went on.
That was enough for Obama to declare later in Jacksonville: "John McCain said he wants to do for health care what Washington did for bankers."
McCain has criticized Obama this week, including in television ads, for ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two faltering mortgage giants that government took over earlier this month. But Obama said McCain is the one who's campaign is filled with current or former Fannie and Freddie lobbyists.
"There's only one candidate whose campaign is being run by seven of Washington's most powerful lobbyists, and folks, it isn't me," Obama said, adding that he doesn't "take a dime" from Washington lobbyists and special interests. He does, however, accept money from non-Washington lobbyists.
"So when John McCain says that lobbyists 'won't even get past the front gate' at his White House, my question is, 'Who's going to stop them?' Those seven lobbyists," Obama said.
In Jacksonville before 12,000 cheering backers, with another 8,000 outside the rally, he argued that McCain has no solutions for the nation's economic crisis.
"His solution was to blame me for it," Obama said. "I would say Sen. McCain is a little panicked."
He accused McCain of relentlessly pushing deregulation, the sort of loose controls many blame for the turmoil on Wall Street. On Social Security, Obama said he'll protect and strengthen the program, while McCain wants to privatize it.
McCain favors partial privatization, giving younger workers the option of diverting money they pay in Social Security taxes to private accounts. President Bush pushed such a plan in 2005 but dropped it after Congress pushed back.
Obama said that given events of the past week, with several major investment firms either allowed to fail or be taken over by the government, "millions would've watched as the market tumbled and their nest egg disappeared before their eyes."
"I know Sen. McCain is talking about a 'casino culture' on Wall Street, but the fact is, he's the one who wants to gamble with your life savings," Obama said.
McCain's campaign accused Obama of trying to scare people into voting for him.
"John McCain is 100 percent committed to preserving Social Security benefits for seniors and Barack Obama knows it," said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds. "Barack Obama has supported alternative private accounts himself which makes these reckless attacks a perfect demonstration of his willingness to ignore facts in favor of his own self-promotion."