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CAMPAIGN '08: BACK ON THE TRAIL

Candidates repeat debate themes

McCain again says he's not another President Bush. Obama says the campaign should be about the economy.

October 17, 2008|Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writers

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — The final presidential debate may be over, but the feisty encounter between Barack Obama and John McCain carried over to the campaign trail Thursday as the rivals started the sprint to election day.

Obama, stumping for votes in a bucolic apple orchard here, told supporters that McCain showed at the final debate that he is more interested in attacking Obama's candidacy than in the struggles of hardworking Americans as the nation sinks into its greatest economic crises since the Depression.

"Here's what Sen. McCain doesn't seem to understand," Obama told 4,100 supporters at a drizzly afternoon rally in front of a grove of flame-red and gold-tinged trees. "With the economy in turmoil and the American dream at risk, the American people don't want to hear politicians attack each other. You want to hear about how we're going to attack the challenges facing the middle class each and every day."

Obama was referring to the Wednesday debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., where the rivals had their sharpest exchange of their three meetings. McCain questioned Obama's relationship with William Ayers, who founded a radical 1960s group that detonated bombs at the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. Obama responded that he had denounced those acts, was a child when they occurred, and merely served on a bipartisan panel with Ayers, who is now an education professor in Chicago.

An energized McCain, rallying supporters in Downingtown, Pa., reiterated his debate themes: He is independent of President Bush, he said, and Obama is a big-spending liberal who would harm small businesses.

"We can't spend the next four years as we've spent much of the last eight, waiting for our luck to change," McCain said. "As I mentioned last night to Sen. Obama, I'm not George Bush, and if he wanted to run against George Bush, he should have run four years ago."

With the election less than three weeks away, both candidates urged supporters to work tirelessly to get them elected.

McCain's visit to Pennsylvania, where his campaign is struggling, was his second this week. He visited the Philadelphia suburb of Blue Bell on Tuesday to unveil $52.5 billion in proposed tax incentives aimed at easing economic distress.

Obama's poll numbers in Pennsylvania have shot up recently, to a double-digit lead.

"The state of Pennsylvania again will decide who's the next president of the United States," McCain told the crowd. "I need your vote. We've got to carry Pennsylvania; we will carry Pennsylvania."

Obama sounded optimistic about his chances on Nov. 4, but reminded supporters of his surprise loss in the New Hampshire primary in January.

"New Hampshire, we are 19 days away from changing this country," Obama said. "But for those who are getting a little cocky, I've got two words for you: New Hampshire. I learned right here with the help of a great friend and supporter, Hillary Clinton, that you can't let up or pay too much attention to the polls."

The candidates' running mates were also busy, with Democrat Joe Biden visiting California to raise money and appear on talk shows with Ellen Degeneres and Jay Leno.

Biden attended two fundraisers at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. "We are at a crucial point in American history," he told donors. "This is the most significant opportunity any president will ever have had to literally change the direction of this country and to change the direction of the world."

GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin rallied supporters in Maine and North Carolina.

"I feel like I'm at home," Palin told about 6,000 people in a hangar at the Bangor International Airport in Maine. "I see the Carhartts [work pants] and the steel-toed boots . . . and the NRA hats."

The top of both tickets ended their night in New York. McCain taped an appearance with David Letterman, then joined Obama at the 63rd annual Alfred E. Smith charity dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The event, which raised $3.9 million for underprivileged children, is named for the late four-term governor of New York and the first Catholic to win the presidential nomination for a major party.

Both candidates poked fun at themselves and at each other. In a departure from the bitter campaign, they also lauded each other.

McCain assured the crowd that Obama was not fazed by being called "that one" during the second debate last week.

"He doesn't mind at all," he said. "In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush."

But McCain offered praise as well. "Political opponents can have a little trouble seeing the best in each other," he said. "I have seen this man at his best. . . . I can't wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well."

Obama, in turn, thanked McCain for his service: "There are very few of us who have served this country with the same dedication and honor and distinction as Sen. McCain, and I'm glad to be sharing this space with him tonight, as I am during the course of this nomination."

The Democrat got in his share of jokes too.

"Many of you . . . know that I got my name, Barack, from my father," he said. "What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for 'that one.' And I got my middle name" -- Hussein -- "from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president."

After the dinner, Obama attended a fundraiser headlined by Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. He raised $8 million Thursday, including $4 million at the concert.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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Mehta reported from New Hampshire, Reston from Pennsylvania. Times staff writer Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mehta reported from New Hampshire, Reston from Pennsylvania. Times staff writer Kate Linthicum in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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