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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

McCain's economic adjustment

After saying the system remains strong, he strives to show he would fix Wall Street. Obama mocks his shift.

September 17, 2008|Michael Finnegan and Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writers

VIENNA, OHIO — Under fire for his assertion that the American economy is fundamentally sound, John McCain moved Tuesday to assure voters of his empathy and accused Barack Obama of attempting to take political advantage of the roiling Wall Street crisis.

Obama on Tuesday castigated McCain as having been "scornful" of the very Wall Street regulations he was now espousing, and he launched television ads mocking McCain's Monday statement.

The Arizona senator spent seven national TV interviews and two campaign events seeking to make it clear that he understood the depth of concern about the rocky economy.

"Too many people on Wall Street have been recklessly wagering instead of making the sound investments we expected of them," McCain said at a rally in Tampa, Fla., before he traveled to Ohio for an event with running mate Sarah Palin. "And when their companies collapse, it seems only the CEOs escape the consequences.

"Too many firms on Wall Street have been able to count on casual oversight," McCain said. "And there are so many of these regulators that the responsibility for oversight is scattered, unfocused and ineffective."

In Ohio, he sought to shift attention to the Illinois senator. "Sen. Obama is not interested in the politics of hope," McCain said. "He's interested in his political future."

Obama, speaking on the Wall Street turmoil, assailed McCain for proposing an inquiry into the regulatory system's failures, along the lines of the effort that explored the Sept. 11 attacks. McCain "offered up the oldest Washington stunt in the book: You pass the buck to a commission," Obama told supporters in Golden, Colo., before heading to Los Angeles for two fundraisers.

"But here's the thing," he added. "This isn't 9/11. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out. I'll provide it. John McCain won't."

Obama touted his own proposals to tighten regulation of Wall Street firms whose potential collapse could put taxpayers at risk, and he faulted McCain for past statements that disapproved of what the Republican described as excessive regulation of the finance industry.

"John McCain can't be trusted to reestablish proper oversight of our financial markets for one simple reason: He has shown time and again that he does not believe in it," the Democratic nominee said.

The economy and the fate of financial institutions took control of the campaign for the second consecutive day Tuesday, with both tickets trying to assert dominance. Dual ads aired in key states. Obama's asked: "How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn't understand it's broken?" McCain's said: "Your savings, your jobs. I'll keep them safe."

But McCain was operating from a defensive posture, after his expression of confidence in the economy at a rally Monday in Jacksonville, Fla., on the same day the stock market slid more than 500 points.

"There's been tremendous turmoil in our financial markets on Wall Street. And there is -- people are frightened by these events," McCain said Monday. "Our economy, I think, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong. But these are very, very difficult times."

By Tuesday morning, McCain was in damage-control mode in TV interviews. On CBS, interviewer Harry Smith noted McCain's rosier Monday assessment, and his Tuesday ad that said "the economy is in crisis."

"Which is it?" Smith asked.

"Well, the economy's in crisis," McCain said.

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

noam.levey@latimes.com

Finnegan reported from Colorado and Levey from Ohio. Times staff writers Cathleen Decker and Faye Fiore contributed to this report.

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