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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Jabs over economy continue

Obama emphasizes oversight of Wall Street; McCain says his rival lacks a plan.

September 23, 2008|Peter Nicholas and Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writers

MEDIA, PA. — With Congress considering a bailout plan for Wall Street, John McCain cast Barack Obama as indecisive in the face of the financial crisis, accusing him of resorting to partisan attacks rather than proposing concrete ideas for stabilizing the economy.

"Today, instead of offering a single solution, he just gave a political speech full of political attacks," McCain said here Monday. "One week after this crisis began, Sen. Obama has still not offered any plan of any kind."

McCain issued the outlines of a possible approach Friday, five days after the crisis erupted. That followed an awkward period for McCain, who has made conflicting statements about whether the government should bail out major financial institutions.

In Green Bay, Wis., Obama steered clear of a detailed critique of the Bush administration's bailout proposal, but called for more vigorous oversight of the financial markets to restore public confidence in Washington and Wall Street.

Speaking before 6,000 people at a sports arena, Obama said, "We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight and accountability when no oversight and accountability is what got us into this mess in the first place."

As the stock market swings wildly, the financial crisis poses challenges for both candidates. McCain, the Republican nominee, is recommending tighter regulations, a position at variance with his record as an ardent free-market enthusiast. A CNN poll released Monday showed that, by a 2-1 margin, voters blame Republicans for the mayhem. And Obama, if he deliberates too long before offering specifics, could feed McCain's critique that he is afraid to make a tough decision.

McCain voiced reservations about the Bush administration's plan at a town hall in Scranton, Pa., saying he was "deeply uncomfortable" with it because the secretary of the Treasury would have virtually unbridled authority to determine which companies are eligible and under what circumstances. "Never before in the history of our nation has so much power and money been concentrated in the hands of one person," he said.

Later in Media, McCain was joined by Sarah Palin, his running mate, whose presence was a crowd pleaser. Compared with the polite applause McCain drew in Scranton, the crowd squealed and cheered for Palin, chanting "Sa-rah! Sa-rah!" while she grinned and waved from the stage. Only when the cheers died down did the chants of pro-Obama supporters, kept in the distance, echo across the plaza.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said in an interview that the bailout plan was a moving target, making it difficult to craft a response. "As time goes on, we're getting a better idea of what the plan is," Gibbs said. "It evolved from a three-page fact sheet to a seven-page fact sheet." He said Obama was "enumerating principles that he'd like to have included."

With the first of three presidential debates set for Friday, Obama is keeping a lighter schedule so he can devote more time to prepare to debate. He had just one campaign rally Monday, and only one brief stop is planned for today in the Tampa, Fla., region.

Much of the next three days will be set aside for mock debate sessions, with the part of McCain played by Gregory Craig, an attorney who defended Bill Clinton in the impeachment scandal.

Palin is getting coaching of a different sort.

Her debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is less than two weeks away. To shore up her foreign policy credentials, the McCain campaign has arranged meetings for Palin with seven world leaders as the United Nations General Assembly opens in New York.

Palin, accompanied by a trio of advisors, meets today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, a McCain foreign policy advisor.

The following day, the Alaska governor, who first got a passport last year, will meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari.

In the shadow of the financial tumult, the two campaigns sparred throughout the day. Each released new television ads pointedly criticizing the other.

Obama's 30-second spot, airing on national cable television, calls attention to an article McCain wrote for a trade journal. The ad contends that McCain praised "Wall Street deregulation" and promised to "reduce oversight of the health insurance industry too."

McCain wrote in the piece: "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

The nonpartisan FactCheck.org, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, faulted Obama on Monday, saying his ad "takes the comments out of context" and "twists McCain's words."

McCain's campaign, in turn, released an ad casting Obama as a product of unsavory "machine" politics in Chicago.

One person mentioned in the ad is Illinois' Democratic governor, Rod R. Blagojevich. The ad, which airs nationally, says Blagojevich has a "legacy of federal and state investigations." It describes Blagojevich as "his" governor, without spelling out what sort of relationship the two men have.

In a conference call with reporters, Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, accused the Obama campaign of going "very negative, very hard," and said their new ad was a response to these tactics.

Gibbs seemed unruffled. He said the 30-second spot would "be seen by virtually no person."

"If you ask anybody in Illinois whether Barack Obama came to power as part of some Chicago machine, they'd spend 30 seconds laughing at you," Gibbs said.

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

bob.drogin@latimes.com

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Nicholas reported from Wisconsin, Drogin from Pennsylvania. Times staff writer Maeve Reston in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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