CHESTER, Va. | The two rich men who want to be president traded new attacks Thursday accusing each other of being out of touch with the Americans, as Sen. Barack Obama got more aggressive amid his slipping poll numbers.
Mr. Obama mocked Sen. John McCain for not knowing on the spot the number of houses he owns, saying, “If you’re like me … you’ve got one house,” as his campaign released an attack ad on the same topic.
“When asked how many houses he owns, McCain lost track. He couldn’t remember. Well, it’s seven. Seven houses,” a narrator says in the ad, running on national cable.
The McCain team fired back in a statement, reminding voters of Mr. Obama’s several gaffes and his own wealthy status.
“Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.
“Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people ‘cling’ to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who’s in touch with regular Americans?” he added.
Mr. Obama’s tax returns showed that he and his wife, Michelle, earned $4.2 million in 2007. Their Chicago home is worth $1.6 million.
Mr. McCain, whose wife, Cindy, is a wealthy heiress, earned $405,000, according to tax returns released by the campaign. Mrs. McCain, worth an estimated $100 million, is chairman of a beer distributor affiliated with the Anheuser-Busch group.
The couple’s Sedona property - where the senator from Arizona has hosted political reporters and potential running mates - spans 6 acres and has several houses. It is owned by the Cindy Hensley McCain Family Trust, and the other properties also are owned by Mrs. McCain, who files her taxes separately and has not released her 2007 returns for review.
Her 2006 tax returns showed income of $6 million.
In his response, Mr. Rogers accused Mr. Obama of wanting to raise taxes, saying that demonstrates the Democrat is “completely out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.”
Mr. Obama often notes that his book sales made his family wealthy. Before that, he has said, he and his wife were “normal” and just six years ago paid off student loans. This week, he told voters that his single mother sometimes had to use food stamps and used Mrs. Obama’s father as an example of a working-class man who put his children through college.
National Democrats embraced the line against Mr. McCain after the Republican’s gaffe on his houses and definition of being “rich” as an annual income of $5 million.
In four swing states he visited in the past week - New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia - Mr. Obama recounted that when Mr. McCain was asked who are “the rich” during last weekend’s Saddleback Forum, he answered “$5 million.”
The senator from Illinois asked voters to raise their hands if they were making $5 million. When no one did, and the audience laughed at Mr. McCain’s expense.
Some Democrats approved of the hard tactic against Mr. McCain, since Mr. Obama has slipped in several polls and fell behind the Republican in some others.
But Republicans found an opportunity to exploit an Obama weakness.
The McCain team quickly crafted an ad noting Mr. Obama’s association with indicted Chicago developer Antonin “Tony” Rezko.
Mr. Obama donated to charity more than $20,000 in political contributions from Mr. Rezko.
Mr. Obama has said it was a mistake to work with Mr. Rezko, who bought a vacant lot next the home Mr. Obama wanted as the owner aimed to sell both properties at once. Mr. Rezko then sold part of the property to the Mr. Obama.
Still, Democrats delighted in Mr. McCain’s uncomfortable moment, and distributed audio from the Politico interview.
Asked how many homes he owns, Mr. McCain said: “I think, uh … I’ll have my staff get to you. It’s condominiums where … I’ll have them get to you.”
McCain aides later told Politico that Mr. McCain and his wife have “at least four in three states.”
Mr. Obama returned to the issue several times during an event in this Richmond suburb with Gov. Tim Kaine, considered a contender for an Obama vice-presidential pick.
Answering a question about postal workers as working-class people, he said, “They don’t have seven houses.”
During another question about teachers frustrated with the No Child Left Behind Act, Mr. Obama noted that underpaid teachers may have a hard time paying their mortgages, Mr. McCain, “I promise you he and his wife are itemizing, and they get a mortgage deduction.”
Mr. McCain said he was joking that the threshold for being rich is $5 million, but Mr. Obama quipped: “I guess, if you’re only making $3 million a year, then you’re middle class.”
He also reprised McCain economic adviser Phil Gramm’s comments to The Washington Times this summer that the U.S. is a “nation of whiners” and is experiencing a “mental recession.”
Mr. Kaine also hit Mr. McCain on the issue, saying on CNN in the morning that the senator “couldn’t count high enough apparently to even know how many houses he owns.”
According to PolitiFact, the seven McCain homes are located in five cities: Sedona, Ariz.; Phoenix; Arlington; La Jolla, Calif.; and Coronado, Calif.
Democrats are seizing on the revelation that Mr. McCain wears $520 Ferragamo Italian leather loafers, and Obama strategist David Axelrod alluded to the many McCain homes in an interview with the New York Times recently.
“Obviously, his strategists met on the portico of the McCain estate in Sedona - or maybe in one of his six other houses - and decided what line of attack they were going to use,” he said.
The Obama campaign went on full offense, deploying Democratic governors as surrogates to push the issue in swing states.
In Florida, the Obama team began a mock “statewide search” to find voters who, “like John McCain, have so many homes that they just can’t keep track of the number.”