Obama and McCain spar over economy


Speaking at a baseball field in sun-splashed Florida, Obama seized on new federal data showing that the economy shrank in the third quarter of the year to criticize McCain and link him to President Bush. Consumers cut back their spending by the biggest amount in 28 years, the strongest sign yet of a recession.

Obama told around 13,000 supporters that McCain is like a passenger in a car, waiting to take the wheel from Bush and keep the country off course. He used the same analogy in a new negative ad.

"After nine straight months of job losses, the largest drop in home values on record, wages lower than they've been in a decade, why would we keep driving down this dead-end street?" Obama said.

McCain, meanwhile, used a chilly rally outside a school in Defiance, Ohio to cast himself as the election's real agent of change. He seized on record oil company profit reports to draw a sharp new distinction with Obama, saying the Democrat's rhetoric masks his votes backing new tax breaks for the industry.

"I voted against it," said McCain. "When I'm president, we're not going to let that happen."

McCain was referring to a report from Exxon Mobil Corp. saying it earned $14.83 billion in the third quarter, the largest profit report in the nation's history

"Senator Obama voted four billions in corporate giveaways to the oil companies," said McCain. "We're going to invest in all energy technologies."

McCain, though he did not mention it specifically, was likely referring to Obama's 2005 vote on a Republican-crafted energy bill dubbed by some critics as the "Bush-Cheney energy bill." McCain voted against the legislation.

Obama and other Democrats supported the bill after many of the administration's proposals were removed and billions of dollars in tax breaks for alternative energy and conservation were added.

The legislation included nearly $3 billion in tax breaks for the oil and natural gas industry including some -- but not all -- that would benefit the largest oil producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp. It also had $11.4 billion in tax incentives for alternative energy and efficiency programs, cited by Obama as his reason for supporting the legislation.

With just five days until the election and lagging in most polls, McCain was setting aside two full days for a splashy bus tour of Ohio, a state aides concede he needs to win if he hopes to build the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

There was one awkward moment in the rally, when McCain introduced "Joe the Plumber," an Ohio plumber who confronted Obama on taxes earlier this month and has become a staple of McCain's stump speech ever since. He turned out not to be at the rally, but McCain just shrugged and said, "We're all Joe the plumber."

The real plumber, Joe Wurzelbacher of Toledo, has endorsed McCain since challenging Obama's tax policies, and aides said he could appear with the candidate later in the Ohio swing. He has already appeared with running mate Sarah Palin.

Obama's campaign aides cast the Democrat's newest TV ads, two 30-second spots, as their "closing argument" for an Obama presidency.

One ad shows a man adjusting the rearview mirror in his car only to see Bush -- and the unpopular president pops up again in a side mirror. The ad goes on to use highway signs to point to various McCain policies and ends with both McCain and Bush in the rear mirror amid the warning: "Look behind you. We can't afford more of the same."

McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds countered that "Barack Obama's economic proposals are driven by job-killing tax increases and out-of-control spending." He added, "Barack Obama would drive this sputtering economy off a cliff."

The other ad focuses on Obama himself and his pledge to bring Americans together. The spot also notes that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett are Obama supporters.

The candidates also sparred over a new Commerce Department report showing that the economy went backward in the third quarter of the year, as consumers cut back on their spending by the biggest amount in 28 years. It was the strongest signal yet the country has hurtled into recession. The gross domestic product shrank at a 0.3 percent annual rate in last quarter.

Obama called the setback "a direct result of the Bush administration's trickle down, Wall Street first, Main Street last policies that John McCain has embraced for the last eight years and plans to continue for the next four."

A senior McCain policy adviser, Doug Holtz-Eakin, said the Illinois senator would only accelerate the economy's decline with "ideologically-driven plans to redistribute income."

Obama holds leads in polls nationally and in most of the states still in competition. McCain has tried to erode Obama's advantage by raising doubts about his tax plan and his ability to protect the nation.

Palin said there is nothing wrong with calling out Obama on his past associations or other controversial elements of his record. Besides Obama's association with '60s-era radical Bill Ayers -- Palin has accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists" -- both McCain and Palin have now brought up Obama's friendship with a Palestinian-American professor, Rashid Khalidi, who has been critical of Israel.

In an interview aired Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Palin was asked if she was suggesting in any of her criticism that Obama is un-American. Palin relied: "No, not at all. Not calling him un-American." She added, "I am sure that Sen. Obama cares as much for this country as McCain does."

The two candidates will get one last chance to appeal to millions of football-loving Americans next week by doing interviews for ESPN's "Monday Night Football." ESPN says the presidential candidates will be interviewed via satellite by MNF's Chris Berman, and it will be shown at halftime of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Washington Redskins game. "Monday Night Football" has averaged 12.2 million viewers this season.

The Steelers-Redskins game will be the first NFL game played in the D.C. area on the Monday night before a presidential election in 24 years.

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