McCain talks tough ahead of debate

October 15, 2008 12:00 am

, TOLEDO, October 15 – Republican John McCain has a third and final chance to debate his way back into contention when he faces his hard-charging White House rival Barack Obama in New York later Wednesday.

McCain, who was down a whopping 14 points in one new poll as the United States weathers its worst financial crisis in decades, talked tough heading into the last presidential debate before the November 4 vote.

At the weekend, McCain promised to Virginia supporters he would "whip" his Democratic opponent’s "you know what" during the evening debate starting at 0100 GMT at Hofstra University on Long Island.

On Tuesday, as he issued the latest version of his plan to end the financial tumult, the Arizona senator vowed to bring up Obama’s links to 1960s radical turned Chicago education professor William Ayers.

"It’s not that I give a damn about some old washed-up terrorist and his terrorist wife," McCain, 72, told KMOX radio in Saint Louis, Missouri.

"What I care about and what the American people care about is whether he (Obama) is being truthful with the American people."

But as millions of voters fret about possibly losing their jobs and health care, the perils of a negative strategy from McCain are clear as Obama, 47, builds up a commanding lead in several polls.

A New York Times-CBS News poll late Tuesday had Obama ahead of McCain by the huge margin of 14 points, 53 to 39 percent, compared to a lead of just three points before last week’s second presidential debate.

At that debate, McCain jabbed his finger and spat out "that one" instead of naming Obama. But the Democrat kept his cool, and snap polls gave him a second victory after his assured performance in the first debate in late September.

CBS said 21 percent of respondents now had a less favorable view of McCain in light of his Ayers-related character attacks on Obama and his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as running mate.

Another new survey by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg showed Obama was ahead by nine points, 50 to 41 percent. Nearly seven in 10 cited the economy as their top concern, and Obama was their preferred candidate.

"Senator Obama is going to use the debate to discuss his plan for the economy. That’s what he’s been doing for weeks," Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"And while McCain has promised to bring up Bill Ayers to distract voters, every minute that he spends continuing to ignore the economy and the middle class is a minute wasted," she said.

"This is John McCain’s last chance to turn this race around and somehow convince the American people that his erratic response to this economic crisis doesn’t disqualify him from being president."

Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn were part of a group of anti-Vietnam War militants called the Weather Underground that bombed government buildings in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

McCain says the professor was instrumental to Obama’s political rise from the mid-1990s, a claim dismissed by the Democrat’s camp as wildly exaggerated. It says the pair were only loosely connected in Chicago charitable work.

Heading in to the last debate, Obama has maintained a laser-guided focus on the economy, which now trumps McCain’s strong suit of national security as the election’s defining issue.

Quinnipiac University polls Tuesday suggested the Illinois senator has broken through the 50-percent threshold in four of the most important battleground states: Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Those margins may be insurmountable, barring a reversal that has never been seen before in the modern era," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The Republican, however, insisted Americans still do not know the real Obama.

Addressing a rally in Pennsylvania, McCain said his rival’s "eloquent" advocacy of lower taxes for the middle class was belied by his record of voting for higher taxes.

"What he promises today is the opposite of what he has done his entire career. Perhaps never before in history have the American people been asked to risk so much based on so little," he said.


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