McCain takes off gloves in final debate
US Republican presidential candidate goes for jugular in his third debate with Democratic rival, savaging Obama's ties to 1960s radical William Ayers and saying his tax plans are nothing more than 'class warfare'; Democrat in turn accuses him of trying to distract voters
McCain, down a hefty 14 points in one new 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."
Keeping his composure, Obama in turn accused McCain of trying to distract voters on a day that New York's Dow Jones share index posted its second-biggest one day points fall ever on mounting fears of a crippling US recession. He expressed his resentment over accusations by McCain's running mate Sarah Palin that the Democrat was "palling around with terrorists."
With 19 days until the November 4 elections, McCain 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 New York's Hofstra University.
McCain, 72, 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.
"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.
Obama, 47, accused McCain of wildly distorting the truth over both Ayers and ACORN, and said voters were dismayed by the "100% negative" tone taken by the Republican's campaign at a time of rampant economic anxiety.
The two also clashed on energy policy, taxes and the economy as well as abortion, as instant polls from the television networks overwhelmingly declared Obama the winner of the last 2008 presidential debate.
Obama said he could be forgiven for mistaking McCain's policies for Bush's "because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities, you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."
He praised McCain's "commendable independence" against Bush policies "on key issues like torture."
"But when it comes to economic policies, essentially what you're proposing is eight more years of the same thing. It hasn't worked. I think the American people understand it hasn't worked," he said.
Both men appealed to "Joe the plumber," or Toledo resident Joe Wurzelbacher, who found instant fame when he bumped into Obama on Sunday doing some canvassing, sparking a spirited debate.
"Joe wants to buy the business that he's been in for all these years," McCain said. "Worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business, but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes."
Both sides claim victory
Obama hit back with his version of his chat with Joe.
"What I essentially said to him was, five years ago, when you were in the position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then.
"And what I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn't yet have money, I want to give them a tax break now."
Asked about running mates, both presidential candidates said Democrat Joseph Biden was qualified to become president, although McCain qualified his judgment by adding the words "in many respects."
McCain passed up a chance to say his own running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, was qualified to sit in the Oval Office, though he praised her performance as governor. Obama sidestepped when asked about Palin, saying it was up to the voters to decide.
Both sides claimed victory with McCain advisor Steve Schmidt saying: "Senator McCain did a very efficient job and won the debate on the economy tonight. It's clear to anyone who watched tonight that Senator Obama wants to spend our way into a depression."
Obama supporter Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm retorted however that McCain spent too much time on issues people don't care about. "He looked frankly desperate, he looked angry, frankly he did not look presidential."
As millions of voters fret about possibly losing their jobs and health care, the perils of a negative strategy from McCain were clear as Obama built up a commanding lead in several polls.
A New York Times-CBS News poll late Tuesday had the Democrat ahead of McCain by the huge margin of 14 points, 53 to 39 %, compared to a lead of just three points before last week's second presidential debate.
New polls of battleground states by CNN-Time-Opinion Research Corp. showed Obama up five points among registered voters in Colorado, by eight in Florida, by three in Missouri and by a yawning 10 points in Virginia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report