LEESBURG, October 23 – White House rivals squared off over experience as Barack Obama played up his foreign policy chops and struggling John McCain highlighted national security in a bid to pick up lost ground.,
Obama, flanked by top veteran military officials in Virginia on Wednesday, portrayed McCain as "out of touch and running out of time," after rejecting new Republican jibes on his plans for taxes and national security.
But just 13 days before the presidential election, McCain warned the Democratic Illinois senator not to take victory for granted, despite his mammoth financial edge and solid lead in a slew of opinion polls.
McCain also returned to his attack on recent comments by Democratic vice presidential pick Joe Biden that, just like former president John F. Kennedy, Obama would be "tested" by a crisis on the international stage within six months of taking office.
The military veteran noted that he had some "personal experience" with crises, citing his role in the United States’ 1962 showdown with the Soviet Union over its missiles in Cuba known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that time, the Republican nominee was as a fighter pilot assigned Cuban targets.
"I know how close we came to a nuclear war and I will not be a president who needs to be tested. I have been tested," he told an enthusiastic rally on a high school football field in Green, Ohio.
McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, also took another run at Obama, ramming home the Republican claim that the Democrat would hike tax rates across the board in a "socialized" wealth sharing scheme.
"He’s hiding his real agenda of redistributing your hard-earned money," she told the rally. "It doesn’t sound like many of you are going to be supporting Barack the Wealth Spreader in this election."
But Obama said such attacks were distortions, and symptomatic of a McCain-Palin effort that acknowledged they were running down the clock to the election.
Obama lampooned McCain’s idealized picture of "Joe the Plumber", an Ohio tradesmen, who had challenged him on his tax plans.
"John McCain likes to talk about Joe the Plumber, but he’s in cahoots with Joe the CEO," Obama said in Richmond, the first of two stops in the southern state of Virginia, which normally votes Republican but where he is leading in the polls.
The new clashes over tax came on another sickening day for the US economy, with stocks diving on grim company data, sparking fears of a global recession as the broad-market Standard & Poor’s 500 index hit a five-year low.
Obama also rebuffed McCain’s latest attacks on his readiness to be commander in chief, after Republicans renewed attempts to turn the key campaign issue from the economy, where voters find McCain weaker, back to national security, where McCain’s credentials are more respected.
"Whoever is the next president is going to have to deal with a whole host of challenges internationally," Obama said, after gathering a phalanx of veteran national security advisors in key swing-state Virginia.
"A period of transition in a new administration is always one in which we have to be vigilant."
McCain sought to portray Obama as taking the electorate for granted, given a clutch of favorable polls and the massive 150 million dollar warchest he amassed in September.
"My opponent’s looking pretty confident these days," McCain said in New Hampshire, a state which revived his moribund presidential campaign earlier this year.
"He’ll be addressing the nation soon. He’s got another one of those big-stadium spectacles in the works, acting like the election is over."
But in a chilly evening rally before an estimated crowd of 35,000 in Virginia, Obama rebuked supporters for falling prey to the triumphal mood.
"I am superstitious, I don’t like counting those chickens before they hatch."
A Fox news survey and a Gallup Daily survey each put Obama up nine points, while the Rasmussen daily tracking poll had Obama ahead by 51 percent to 45 percent.
In a radio interview with Christian evangelical leader James Dobson, Palin said the race would "come right down to the wire" on November 4, and that the outcome was "in God’s hands."
"I’m going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God’s hands, that the right thing for America will be done," she said.