John McCain lashed out Monday at Barack Obama's political pedigree, tying his rival to notorious Chicago machine politics as the Republican struggled to reclaim the advantage that slipped to Mr. Obama as the Wall Street mess has unfolded.
In a new ad, Mr. McCain accuses his Democratic opponent of running the same "corrupt Chicago political machine" as convicted felon and Obama patron Tony Rezko and the Daley family, which controls Chicago politics.
Mr. McCain's campaign said they are raising the corruption issue because the press has failed to do so.
"Senator Obama very directly has introduced the issue of associations in this campaign, I think, raising fundamentally that you can tell something about people by the company they keep," top McCain aide Steve Schmidt told reporters.
As the financial sector spiraled downward last week so did Mr. McCain's poll numbers, dragged down by his own confusion over the state of the economy and knocked off message by his own surrogates. What had been a slight three-percentage-point lead in the polls turned, and Mr. Obama now leads by 2.7 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls.
And a CNN poll released Monday showed that 52 percent of likely voters believe Mr. Obama would be better at handling the economy compared with 44 percent for Mr. McCain.
Sensing an opening, Mr. Obama sought to press his advantage, working to link Mr. McCain with President Bush, whose popularity has dipped below 30 percent in some national polls.
"We did not arrive at this moment by some accident of history," he said in Green Bay, Wis. "We are in this mess because of a bankrupt philosophy that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to the rest of us."
He hit his Republican rival for failing to change the "greed and irresponsibility" of Washington during his 26 years there and said his ties to lobbyists would prevent real change from coming to the nation's capital.
As the campaign proceeds, the two camps have stepped up their on-air attacks through ever-harsher commercials.
Mr. Obama's campaign took issue with the new McCain ad, saying it was an effort to distract from Mr. McCain's stumbling last week and from reports, including one Tuesday in the New York Times, examining McCain campaign manager Rick Davis' ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In a statement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that rather than embracing Chicago's political machine, Mr. Obama ran against it.
"Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate as an independent Democrat. He took on the Chicago Democratic organization in a primary to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. And in both Illinois and Washington, he has challenged the Old Guard for landmark ethics reforms," Mr. Burton said.
But Mr. McCain's campaign said the ad, which will run nationally and in battleground states, is a fair response to what aides said have been repeated personal attacks by Mr. Obama.
The ad ties Mr. Obama to four Chicago figures, including Obama economic adviser William Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose election machine has been accused of dirty politics, and Rezko, who was convicted of fraud and bribery.
In talking with reporters, Mr. Schmidt said the press owes voters more scrutiny of Mr. Obama's ties to William Ayers, an early Obama backer who gained notoriety as a leader in the Weather Underground, which bombed government buildings in protest of the Vietnam War.
Mr. Schmidt took particular shots at the New York Times for its story yesterday concerning Mr. Davis.
"Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today, not by any standard, a journalistic organization. It is a pro-Obama advocacy organization," he said, without mentioning that the newspaper endorsed Mr. McCain during the Republican primary.
As Congress considered a new $700 billion plan, Mr. Obama criticized the largest government bailout in history.
"We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight and accountability when no oversight and accountability is what got us into this mess in the first place," he said.
He also outlined his already announced plan for a more transparent government, saying the nation must "get to work immediately on reforming the broken politics and the broken government that allowed this to crisis to happen in the first place."
He said an Obama White House would forbid the "revolving door" of lobbying and then entering government with a two-year ban on working on anything related to former employers and a permanent ban on lobbying the administration after leaving.
Mr. McCain, meanwhile, said Mr. Obama has been slow to come up with solutions to the financial crisis. He said he is "greatly concerned" by the plan, which he said surrenders too much power to the executive branch without any accountability.
"When we are talking about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, 'trust me' just isn't good enough," he said in Scranton, Pa.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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