McCain and Obama resume campaign fight


White House hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain accused each other of playing politics with the financial crisis last night, stepping up their attacks one day after their first presidential debate ended in a virtual tie.

After a high-pressure encounter in Mississippi, where the two candidates clashed sharply on spending and foreign policy, Mr Obama hit the campaign trail and Mr McCain returned to Washington to work on a rescue package for the financial sector.

Mr McCain, an Arizona senator who some Democrats feared would upset delicate negotiations, spent most of the day working the phones from his campaign office rather than joining talks on Capitol Hill.

In remarks delivered by satellite to a group of hunters and fishermen in Ohio, Mr McCain said the debate illustrated his differences with Mr Obama over Wall Street's problems.

"It was clear that Senator Obama still sees the financial crisis in America as a national problem to be exploited first and solved later," he said.

"This is a moment of great testing, when the future of our economy is on the line, and I am determined to help achieve a legislative package to help avoid the worst."

Mr Obama, an Illinois senator, and his running mate Joe Biden, meanwhile, took turns criticising Mr McCain on the economy and his ties to unpopular President George Bush at a rally in North Carolina.

They also made digs at Mr McCain for jumping off the campaign trail on Thursday to join bailout talks, a move some called a political stunt less than six weeks before the November 4th presidential election.

"George Bush has dug us into a deep hole. John McCain was carrying the shovel. It's going to take time to dig ourselves out," Mr Obama said to a rally attended by about 20,000 people.

"You see, I think Senator McCain just doesn't get it - he doesn't get that this crisis on Wall Street ... hit Main Street long ago," Mr Obama said. "That's why he's been shifting positions these last two weeks, looking for a photo-op, and trying to figure out what to say and what to do."

In Washington, lawmakers were still working on a proposed $700 billion (380 billion pound) bailout of the financial industry in response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Mr McCain spoke to President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and congressional leaders, his campaign said.

Mr Obama spoke by phone to Mr Paulson and Democratic lawmakers.

Congressional leaders said they hoped to reach a deal by the end of the weekend so Congress can act on today or tomorrow.

Several have said they were frustrated with Thursday's theatrics when Mr McCain rushed to Capitol Hill and attended a White House meeting with Mr Obama that ended in acrimony.

"The further presidential politics stays from these negotiations, the better off we'll be and the quicker we can come to a solution," said Sen Charles Schumer, New York Democrat who chairs the Joint Economic Committee.

In the debate both Mr McCain and Mr Obama were optimistic Congress would agree to a rescue plan, but said the huge price tag would limit their agendas as the next president.

Public opinion polls have shown Mr Obama gaining over the past week on the question of who could best lead the country on economic issues. Most polls show Mr Obama holding a slight and growing lead over Mr McCain.

Both camps claimed victory after the 90-minute debate during which Mr McCain, 72, and Mr Obama, 47, repeatedly questioned each other's judgement.

Neither candidate scored any clear blows or committed major gaffes. Mr McCain was on the attack frequently and put Mr Obama on the defensive, but he responded forcefully.

Mr Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe said the exchange showed the Illinois senator had more than passed the "commander in chief" test. "We think last night we not only passed it, we flew by it," he told reporters on a conference call.

The Obama campaign released a new advertisement called "zero" - the number of times it said Mr McCain made reference to the middle class during the debate. "McCain doesn't get it. Barack Obama does," the ad's narrator says.

Mr McCain lashed out at Mr Obama for not talking about victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"I noticed during our debate that even as American troops are fighting on two fronts, Barack Obama couldn't bring himself to use the word "victory" even once," Mr McCain in his remarks to the sportsmen group.

His campaign released an ad criticising Mr Obama for a 2007 vote against funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The narrator says Mr Obama was "playing politics, risking lives. Not ready to lead."

Meanwhile, former US president Bill Clinton said Mr McCain is "a great man," but he expects Mr Obama to show "greatness" as president and will do what he can to get him elected.

Long dogged by questions about his commitment to Mr Obama, who defeated his wife, New York senator Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr Clinton said he admires Mr McCain yet believes Mr Obama would be the better president.

"Hillary is the one who told me go help him (Obama). She said this guy's got real skills. She said he's got almost unlimited potential," Mr Clinton told NBC's Meet the Pressin a prerecorded interview aired today.

"I'm going to do my very best to do ever single thing he asks me to do," said Mr Clinton. "I am developing a really good relationship with Senator Obama."

Mr Clinton offered some advice to Mr Obama's vice presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, in his debate on Thursday with Mr McCain's running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

"I don't think he has to whack her or should," Mr Clinton said, noting many undecided voters like Ms Palin and Mr McCain.

Mr Clinton said Mr Biden should instead focus why he and Mr Obama should be elected. "I'd be quite specific," he said.

Mr Clinton said he consider Mr McCain, a decorated former Navy fighter pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam, "a great man."

But Mr Clinton said he disagrees with McCain on a number of issues and praised efforts by Mr Obama - a first-term senator from Illinois - to revive the economy, expand health care and move the United States toward energy independence.

"When he becomes president, he will be doing things for the American people and for the world, and the greatness will then become apparent because of the good he will do," Mr Clinton said.