Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain's campaign intensified attacks Friday on his rival's ties to shady Chicago characters such as 1970s bomber William Ayers, but Democrat Sen. Barack Obama vowed not to let it distract voters from the imploding economy, which he blamed on Republicans.
In a double whammy, the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) put out TV ads hammering Mr. Obama's association with Mr. Ayers, co-founder of the leftist Weather Underground, which took responsibility for a bombing spree that included the U.S. Capitol in 1971 and the Pentagon a year later.
"When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers. When discovered, he lied," intones a terse female announcer in the campaign's ad. "Obama. Blind ambition. Bad judgment."
Mr. Obama launched his first Senate campaign at Mr. Ayers' home in 1995 and the two served together from 1995 to 1999 on a charity board that distributed grants for alternative education projects and from 1999 to 2002 on the board of the anti-poverty Woods Fund.
The RNC spot highlighted the connections to Mr. Ayers; recently convicted political fixer Tony Rezko who helped Mr. Obama buy his $1.65 million Chicago home; and former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley, a campaign chairman for Mr. Obama and a member of the city's political dynasty whom the voiceover describes as "heir to the Chicago machine."
"The Chicago way. Shady politics. That's Barack Obama's training," the voiceover says.
Mr. Obama responded on the stump in Ohio, saying Mr. McCain wanted to change the subject from the economy to save his flagging campaign.
"We've seen a barrage of nasty insinuations and attacks, and I'm sure we'll see much more over the next 25 days. We know what's coming. We know what they're going to do," Mr. Obama said at a campaign stop in Chillicothe. "They can run misleading ads and pursue the politics of anything goes. But it's not going to work. Not this time."
Mr. Obama said he was worried "about the Americans losing their jobs, and their homes, and their life savings," while Mr. McCain fretted about his poll numbers.
On the heels of Thursday's massive sell-off on Wall Street, both candidates on the campaign trail presented themselves as the best leader for troubled times and blamed the other for contributing to the economic crisis.
Mr. Obama blamed Bush administration policies for creating the economic mess and said Mr. McCain sided with Big Business over working Americans.
"We can't afford four more years of the economic theory that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else," Mr. Obama said. "We can't afford four more years of less regulation so that no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street. We've seen where that's led us, and we're not going back."
Mr. McCain criticized Mr. Obama and "his Democratic buddies in Congress" for not taking up Republican plans to reform mortgage buyers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The two government-sponsored mortgage giants helped pump up the now-burst housing bubble through their seemingly insatiable appetite for buying subprime mortgages.
"I called for tighter restrictions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that could have helped prevent this crisis from happening in the first place," Mr. McCain said at a rally in La Crosse, Wis. "My opponent was silent on the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. ... His most notable involvement with the housing issue was to be taking money from executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the very people who were causing the problem."
Mr. McCain touted his plan for a $300 billion government buyout of troubled mortgages to help at-risk homeowners stay in their houses. He also made a new proposal to let senior citizens keep their tax-exempt 401(k) retirement investments, which current law require they sell at age 70 1/2.
"We have to protect investors, especially those relying on their investments for retirement," he said. "To spare investors being forced to sell their stocks at just a time when the market is hurting the most, those rules should be suspended."
He promised tax relief for the middle class and business, measures to stanch rising food and fuel costs, cut government waste and erase the country's $10 trillion debt and balance the federal budget "by the end of my term in office."
Mr. Obama, looking to inspiration from Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, called for Americans to reject panic.
"That's why we remember that some of the most famous words ever spoken by an American came from a president who took office in a time of turmoil: 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'"
Mr. Obama called for fast action by Treasury to implement the $700 billion rescue approved last week and for coordinated steps to restore confidence in financial markets when finance ministers from top industrial countries meet with President Bush this weekend.
But he said the rescue package was just the beginning. He proposed following it was a "rescue plan for the middle class" that would deliver immediate relief to families struggling with rising prices, create jobs with New Deal-style federal public works projects and an extension of unemployment benefits.
"I've been fighting for this plan for months. My opponent has said nothing," Mr. Obama said. "And that is the choice in this election."