Candidates get tough, personal in debate

October 15, 2008 8:32:46 PM PDT
John McCain accused presidential rival Barack Obama in their final debate Wednesday night of waging class warfare by advocating tax increases designed to "spread the wealth around." The Democrat denied it, and countered that he favors tax reductions for 95 percent of all Americans.

Watch an archive of the entire debate here

"Nobody likes taxes," Obama said in an exchange early in the third and final presidential debate of a campaign nearing its end. "But ultimately we've got to pay for the core investments" necessary for the economy.

"If nobody likes taxes, let's not raise anybody's, OK?" McCain retorted with a laugh.

McCain, eager to stress his differences with an unpopular president, also said he was disappointed that the Bush administration has not embraced his $300 billion proposal to renegotiate mortgagees so homeowners can remain in their homes.

"Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush," he declared at another point. "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."

Obama said he agreed the government must help homeowners trapped in the current economic crisis, but he said, "The way Sen. McCain has designed his plan, it could be a giveaway to banks."

The debate, at Hofstra University, was the last encounter for the major party rivals. Unlike their earlier events, McCain and Obama sat at a table, joined by the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS.

McCain has fallen behind his rival in the past few weeks, a period marked not only by their series of debates but also by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Now, less than three weeks before the election, Obama leads in the national polls in his bid to become the nation's first black president, and McCain spends much of his campaign time trying to defend Republican territory rather than seeking converts among Democrats.

John McCain told Barack Obama to his face Thursday night, "You didn't tell the American people the truth" about a key campaign pledge as the two presidential rivals slung accusations at close quarters in the final debate of their campaign for the White House.

"One hundred percent of your ads have been negative, John," Obama shot back a few moments later to his rival, seated only a few feet away at a round table.

"That's not true," McCain retorted.

"It 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.

Behind in the polls, McCain played the aggressor early and often.

He demanded to know the full extent of Obama's relationship with William Ayres, a 1960s-era terrorist, the Democrat's ties with ACORN, a liberal group accused of violating federal law as it seeks to register voters, and 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 Democrat'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.

John McCain assailed Barack Obama's character and his campaign positions on taxes, trade and more Wednesday night, hoping to turn their final debate into a launching pad for a campaign comeback. "You didn't tell the American people the truth," he said.

Unruffled, and ahead in the polls, Obama parried each charge, 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.

"That's not true," McCain retorted.

"It 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 Great Depression.

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 needs children.

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.


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