Sen. John McCain challenged his Democratic presidential opponent Sen. Barack Obama’s honor and honesty on the eve of Tuesday’s presidential debate, injecting a personal tone heading into the face-to-face showdown as he sought to refocus the race on Mr. Obama’s character.
“My opponent’s touchiness every time he is questioned about his record should make us only more concerned,” Mr. McCain said in New Mexico, suggesting that Mr. Obama was hiding something. “It’s as if somehow the usual rules don’t apply, and where other candidates have to explain themselves and their records, Senator Obama seems to think he is above all that.”
In an across-the-board assault Monday, Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of lying on his economic record. The Republican’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has raised Mr. Obama’s ties to William Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground group that bombed government buildings to protest the Vietnam War, and the Republican National Committee filed a complaint arguing that Mr. Obama had taken illegal campaign contributions.
The McCain campaign also announced a commercial arguing that the Democrat is “dishonorable” and “dangerous” for having voted against a troop funding bill. Mr. Obama did vote against one war-spending bill that became law, though he voted in favor of other versions.
With the second of three face-to-face debates between the two men scheduled for Tuesday night, the ghosts of campaigns past have begun to haunt both of them - mainly because Mr. McCain is determined to make their past a central issue.
While claiming to be above the fray, Mr. Obama’s campaign retaliated in kind, accusing Mr. McCain of extensive ties to a convicted felon from the savings and loan scandal. It released a 13-minute Web video rehashing Mr. McCain’s role as one of the Keating Five - four Democratic senators and Mr. McCain who faced scrutiny for their relationships with Charles H. Keating Jr., who was convicted of fraud for his mismanagement of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association.
The senator from Illinois said the new attacks were “political shenanigans, smear tactics,” designed to distract from the economy issue.
“I cannot imagine anything more important to talk about than the economic crisis,” he told reporters while campaigning in Asheville, N.C.
Mr. McCain finds himself with decreasing options for how to win the race, even by his campaign’s own yardsticks.
Last week, McCain advisers said they took solace in the fact that they had kept Mr. Obama under 50 percent in polls - though three polls released Monday put the Democrat over that mark. And the McCain advisers said they were ahead or tied in every state President Bush won in 2004, though the state-by-state averages on RealClearPolitics.com show Mr. McCain trailing in Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.