The campaign heated up last Saturday, with just over two weeks remaining before Election Day, as Obama countered by accusing his rival of being “out of touch” with the struggles of middle-class Americans who need “a break.”
The presidential candidates swapped sharply worded charges over tax cuts, each accusing the other of shortchanging middle-income Americans at a time of economic hardship for millions.
McCain has become increasingly aggressive in debates, personal appearances and — in recent days — automated phone calls as the polls showed him falling behind nationally as well as in several key states.
Obama attacks his rival heartily, and his rhetoric is backed by a late-campaign television advertising blitz that McCain has been unable to match.
McCain last Saturday leveled critical rhetoric in a paid weekly radio address, and campaigned later that day in North Carolina and Virginia, a pair of traditionally Republican states he is struggling to hold.
The senator took the stage in Woodbridge, Va., to the theme from “Rocky,” a movie about an underdog and comeback fighter — who loses his big fight in the film’s final scene.
In his radio address, McCain accused Obama of wanting to “convert the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington.”
“At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” the Arizona senator said. “They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Sen. Obama. Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it’s just another government giveaway.”
Obama responded a few hours later in his appearance before one of the largest crowds of his campaign in St. Louis, saying his Republican rival “wants to cut taxes for the same people who have already been making out like bandits, in some cases literally.”
“John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people ‘welfare,’” Obama said.
Obama said McCain “wants to give the average Fortune 500 CEO a $700,000 tax cut but absolutely nothing at all to over 100 million Americans.”
“I want to cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95 percent of all workers.”
The exchange unfolded 17 days before an election that is trending Obama’s way as he bids to become America’s first black president.
Anxiety over the teetering U.S. economy, uncertainty over the wisdom of McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, and the Republicans’ vicious character attacks against Obama in the last month all have been cited as possible reasons for McCain’s drop in the polls.
The differences between the two men on taxes have been present from the early days of the campaign, but lately they have attained greater prominence in the wake of a credit crunch, deep declines in the stock markets and rising joblessness.
McCain wants to retain all of the tax cuts that Bush won from Congress in 2001 and later years, reductions that applied at every level of income. Obama favors retaining Bush-era cuts except on taxpayers making more than about $250,000, whose taxes would revert to higher levels in effect a few years ago.
Earlier last Saturday, Palin urged supporters to turn “an underdog into a victor” as she pitched for votes at a baseball stadium in Lancaster, Pa., the only Democratic-leaning state that the McCain campaign is still aggressively contesting. However, state polls show Obama with a double-digit lead.
Obama picked up more newspaper endorsements last Saturday, gaining the support of the Denver Post, the (Portland) Oregonian, and the Miami Herald. McCain gained the support of the Dallas Morning News.
Polls consistently show that more Americans trust Obama to turn around the economy than McCain, whom Obama has linked with Bush’s unpopular policies.
For weeks, Obama has been ahead in national polls, but his leads have varied. While one major poll gave him a 14-point lead early last week, the daily Gallup tracking poll showed an 8-point advantage last Saturday.
An Associated Press analysis shows Obama with the advantage in states representing 264 electoral votes — just shy of the 270 needed for victory. McCain is favored in states representing 185 votes, with six states totaling 80 electoral votes up in the air.
Obama has the lead in all the states that John Kerry won in 2004. If he can hold those states and pick up Ohio or Florida — two big states won by Bush — or a series of smaller Bush states, he will win the presidency.
Associated Press writers Glen Johnson in North Carolina, David Espo in St. Louis and Mark Scolforo in Lancaster, Pa., contributed to this report.