TAMPA, Fla. | Sen. John McCain fiercely cast Sen. Barack Obama as unfit to be commander in chief and take on the “grave threats” that await the next president, hours before his Democratic rival addressed tens of millions nationwide in a 30-minute, prime-time infomercial.
Seeking to turn the campaign away from the economic crisis and toward national security with just six days left in the race, Mr. McCain strayed far from his standard stump speech, declaring that his rival simply has not proved himself up to the task.
“The question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other grave threats in the world. And he has given you no reason to answer in the affirmative,” Mr. McCain said after a national security roundtable with top military and intelligence specialists.
Mr. Obama’s 30-minute ad broke no new ground or made any new proposals, but rather touched on each of his major campaign promises: an economic rescue for middle-class families, health care reform, energy independence, a commitment to national security and an end to the war in Iraq. Each issue was punctuated by testimonials by voters about hard times in the U.S.
“What struck me most about these stories you will see tonight is not just the challenges these Americans face but also their resolve to change this country,” Mr. Obama said in the introduction to the video, which concluded with two minutes of a live rally in a hockey arena in Sunrise, Fla.
At other Florida rallies, including one with running mate Joseph R. Biden Jr. and another with former President Bill Clinton in Orlando, the senator from Illinois continued his focus on the economy, the issue that has moved him ahead in polls in several battleground states.
In Raleigh, N.C., he painted a bleak picture of a McCain presidency, mocking “Joe the Plumber” as he told supporters that they would get no help paying for college, see their health benefits taxed and see tax relief go to the rich.
“So whether you are Suzy the Student, or Nancy the Nurse, or Tina the Teacher, or Carl the Construction Worker, if my opponent is elected, you will be worse off four years from now than you are today,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s cut through the negative ads and the phony attacks.”
Mr. McCain countered the expected thrust of the Obama ad, saying that a president is not simply an economic manager but also a national leader in charge of foreign policy - a much less predictable task for which he said Mr. Obama is not prepared.
“We’re going to get through this economic crisis. But when that day arrives and the worries of financial crisis have fallen away, we will find awaiting our country all of the same great challenges and dangers that were there all along,” he said.
“They mattered before the economic turmoil of the present. They will matter still when it has passed. And in a time of war, at a moment of danger for our country and the world, let it not be said of us that we lost sight of these challenges.”
Mr. Obama did not comment on Mr. McCain’s charges on national security, but a surrogate, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, ripped the senator from Arizona.
“When the next president is tested, the American people can have John McCain’s judgment of siding with George Bush and Dick Cheney on every major national security decision, or they can have the steady leadership and sound judgment of Barack Obama that has earned the support of Americans like General Colin Powell,” the general said.
Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain stumped in the Sunshine State, a crucial battleground that is tilting toward the Democratic candidate.
The senator from Illinois leads in most state polls, by an average of 3.5 points, but his advantage is within the polls’ margins of error.