- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Sen. John McCain defiantly declared his independence from President Bush in the final debate of the presidential campaign Wednesday as he fired off attack after attack on Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama’s qualifications, his associations and his economic policies that he denounced as class warfare.

Mr. Obama countered that the Republican nominee would jeopardize Americans’ health insurance, provide “giveaways” to banks and continue the course set by Mr. Bush.

“Senator Obama, I am not President Bush,” snapped Mr. McCain, the clear underdog in polls, in one of many lively volleys. “If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. “I’m going to give a new direction to this economy in this country.”

Mr. McCain repeatedly brought up Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man who questioned Mr. Obama at a recent rally, to represent the middle class, arguing that the Democrat’s tax plans would leave “Joe the Plumber” in the lurch.

And the senator from Arizona raised many of the issues that have been simmering beneath the scenes: abortion and judicial nominations; Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Mr. Obama’s pledge to meet with him; Mr. Obama’s ties to William Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground group that bombed government buildings to protest the Vietnam War; and his ties to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which is accused of voter registration fraud.

Mr. Obama brushed aside those attacks, denying that he is associated with Mr. Ayers or ACORN, and for the most part tried to keep the focus on his plans to revive the economy.

The issue has played well for Mr. Obama, and with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging more than 700 points Wednesday, figures to remain dominant for the rest of the campaign.

• Explore different election-night scenarios with our ‘Road to 270’ interactive electoral college map

“If I’ve occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush’s policies, it’s because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people — on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities — you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush,” Mr. Obama said.

He frequently said Mr. McCain was distorting both his own and Mr. Obama’s records, and argued that it’s the Republican who is distracting voters with negative ads.

“One hundred percent, John, of your ads, 100 percent of them have been negative,” the Democrat said, referring to a study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project that found all of Mr. McCain’s ads in a recent one-week period were negative.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have in fact run positive ads during the campaign, but both are measurably more negative than their 2004 counterparts.

Mr. Obama’s most pointed attack of the night came on health care, when he said Mr. McCain’s plan would cause some businesses to drop their coverage of employees, putting even more on the rolls of the uninsured.

“Don’t take my word for it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which generally doesn’t support a lot of Democrats, said that this plan could lead to the unraveling of the employer-based health care system,” Mr. Obama said.

Heading into the debate Wednesday at Hofstra University, Mr. McCain’s campaign had rejected the press’ description of the affair as make-or-break, arguing that he still has nearly three weeks to make his case before voters go to the polls Nov. 4.

Story Continues →