Fri, Oct 17, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Obama, McCain face off in last debate before poll

AP , HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK

In their fiercest encounter of the campaign, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain heatedly demanded in their final debate on Wednesday that Democratic Senator Barack Obama explain his relationship with a Vietnam war-era radical.

Obama brushed off the attack, saying he was eight years old when William Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground, was involved in anti-war activities including the bombing of federal buildings.

Behind in the polls going into the third and final presidential debate, McCain came out fighting and repeated to Obama’s face some of the most negative campaign allegations about the Illinois senator.

Neither candidate brought new proposals for moving the country out of its deepening financial crisis, even though polls show voter economic anxieties far overshadow all other issues, even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The nationally televised debate was the last chance for Americans to measure the credentials of the candidates in a side-by-side setting, offering McCain his best remaining chance to gain ground on Obama with less than three weeks to the election.

The 72-year-old veteran Arizona senator defended his harsh campaigning, acknowledging this “has been a tough campaign” and its negative tone could have been avoided through a series of town hall meetings that he proposed.

Obama responded that 100 percent of McCain’s ads had been negative and that he did not think the American people cared about the personal attacks.

“One hundred percent, John, of your ads, 100 percent of them have been negative,” Obama said.

“It’s not true,” McCain said.

“It absolutely is true,” said Obama, seeking the last word.

McCain is currently running all negative ads, a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed. But he has run a number of positive ads during the campaign.

Polls have shown that personal attacks by the McCain campaign — including advertisements about Ayers — have backfired, alienating voters at a time when the economy is the overwhelming concern.

When McCain talked about Ayers, Obama countered: “The fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me.”

As in the previous two debates, national polls showed a majority of debate watchers rated Obama the clear winner. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll found that 58 percent of those surveyed said Obama did the best job in the debate, with 31 percent saying McCain did better. The poll was conducted by telephone with 620 adult Americans who watched the debate and had a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Obama sought again to tie McCain to the unpopular administration of US President George W. Bush, recalling that there was a federal budget surplus when the Republican took office from former president Bill Clinton.

McCain quickly retorted, “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”

Obama shot back that on the economy McCain was proposing to continue Bush’s policies.

“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,” Obama said.

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