HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) - John McCain assailed Barack Obama's
character and campaign positions on taxes, abortion and more
Wednesday night, hoping to transform their final presidential
debate into a launching pad for a political comeback. "You didn't
tell the American people the truth," he charged.
Unruffled, and ahead in the polls, Obama parried each
accusation, and leveled a few of his own.
"One hundred percent, John, of your ads, 100 percent of them
have been negative," Obama shot back in an uncommonly personal
debate less than three weeks from Election Day.
"It's not true," McCain retorted.
"It absolutely is true," said Obama, seeking the last word.
McCain is currently running all negative ads, according to a
study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But he has run a
number of positive ads during the campaign.
The 90-minute encounter, at a round table at Hofstra University,
was their third debate, and marked the beginning of a 20-day sprint
to Election Day. Obama leads in the national polls and in surveys
in many battleground states, an advantage built in the weeks since
the nation stumbled into the greatest economic crisis since the
With few exceptions, the campaign is being waged in states that
voted Republican in 2004 - Virginia, Colorado, Iowa - and in many
of them, Obama holds a lead in the polls.
McCain played the aggressor from the opening moments of the
debate, accusing Obama of waging class warfare by seeking tax
increases that would "spread the wealth around."
The Arizona senator also demanded to know the full extent of
Obama's relationship with William Ayers, a 1960s-era terrorist and
the Democrat's ties with ACORN, a liberal group accused of
violating federal law as it seeks to register voters. And he
insisted Obama disavow last week's remarks by Rep. John Lewis, a
Democrat, who accused the Republican ticket of playing racial
politics along the same lines as segregationists of the past.
Struggling to escape the political drag of an unpopular
Republican incumbent, McCain also said, "Sen. Obama, I am not
President Bush. ... You wanted to run against President Bush, you
should have run four years ago."
Obama returned each volley, and brushed aside McCain's claim to
full political independence.
"If I've occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's
policies, it'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 said.
McCain's allegation that Obama had not leveled with the public
involved the Illinois senator's decision to forgo public financing
for his campaign in favor of raising his own funds. As a result, he
has far outraised McCain, although the difference has been somewhat
neutralized by an advantage the Republican National Committee holds
over the Democratic Party.
"He signed a piece of paper" earlier in the campaign pledging
to accept federal financing, McCain said. He added that Obama's
campaign has spent more money than any since Watergate, a reference
to President Nixon's re-election, a campaign that later became
synonymous with scandal.
Obama made no immediate response to McCain's assertion about
having signed a pledge to accept federal campaign funds.
Asked about running mates, both presidential candidates said
Democrat Joseph Biden was qualified to become president, although
McCain added this qualifier: "in many respects."
McCain passed up a chance to say his own running mate, Alaska
Gov. Sarah Palin, was qualified to sit in the Oval Office, though
he praised her performance as governor and noted her work on behalf
of special needs children. The Palins have a son born earlier this
year with Down Syndrome.
Obama sidestepped when asked about Palin's qualifications to
serve as president, and he, too, praised her advocacy for special
But he quickly sought to turn the issue to his advantage by
noting McCain favors a spending freeze on government programs.
"I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other
special needs will require some additional funding if we're going
to get serious in terms of research. ... And if we have an
across-the-board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do
it," he said.
In addition to differences on taxes and spending, McCain said
Obama advocated trade policies that recalled those of Herbert
Hoover, who presided over the start of the Great Depression.
Obama has called for tougher provisions in trade negotiations,
arguing that is necessary to avoid undercutting the wages paid
McCain also said Obama has aligned himself with "the extreme
aspect of the pro-abortion movement in America" and had voted
present while in the Illinois Legislature on a measure to ban one
type of procedure late in a woman's pregnancy.
Obama said the bill would have undermined Roe v. Wade, the
Supreme Court ruling that granted abortion rights, and had been
opposed by the Illinois Medical Society.
"I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions,
partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the
mother's health and life, and this did not contain that
exception," he added.
McCain sarcastically paid tribute to "the eloquence of Senator
Obama. He's (for) health for the mother. You know, that's been
stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost
McCain's allegation about class warfare stemmed from one of
Obama's campaign appearances last weekend.
In Ohio on Sunday, Obama was approached by a man who said,
"Your new tax plan's going to tax me more."
A video clip caught by Fox News shows Obama replying, "It's not
that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that
everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance at success,
too. And I think that when we spread the wealth around, it's good
McCain referred repeatedly to that voter, Joe Wurzelbacher, a
plumber from Toledo, Ohio.
Wurzelbacher watched Wednesday night's debate and said he still
thinks Obama's plan would keep him from buying the small business
that employs him.
McCain's reference to Ayers reprised campaign commercials he has
run to try and raise doubts about Obama's fitness to serve.
Ayers, who was a member of the violent Weather Underground in
the 1960s, hosted a meet-the-candidate event for Obama in an
Illinois race many years later.
"The fact that this has become such an important part of your
campaign, Sen. McCain, says more about your campaign than it says
about me," Obama replied.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)