ALBUQUERQUE, September 7 – US presidential candidates jostled for the mantle of change Sunday as more bad economic news threatened to deepen electoral dissatisfaction with the state of the nation.
Republican contender John McCain touted his reputation as a maverick willing to buck his party on critical issues as he toured battleground states with newly-crowned vice presidential pick Sarah Palin.
The running mates spoke of their history of fighting corruption and "pork-barrel spending" ands they vowed to reach across the aisle to reform Washington.
"I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party, I don’t work for a special interest and I don’t work for myself. I work for you," McCain told a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"We’re going to win this election and let me offer a little advance warning to the old big spending, do-nothing me-first country second Washington crowd: change is coming. Change is coming."
But Democratic rival Barack Obama ridiculed McCain’s promise of change as he tied the Arizona Senator to the failed policies of the Bush administration and his decision to appoint lobbyists to run his campaign.
"Suddenly he’s the change agent," Obama said at a campaign stop in Terre Haute, Indiana Saturday.
"He says I’m going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over," Obama said.
"Who, who is it that he’s going to tell that change is coming? I mean come on. They must think you’re stupid."
Obama warned that McCain’s policies promised to further undermine the flagging American promise "that those who have worked hard their entire lives have the right to retire with dignity and security."
"For eight long years, there’s been a very different philosophy in the White House," Obama told a meeting of the influential AARP, a pressure group for older Americans.
"They call it the Ownership Society, but what it really means is you’re on your own. Job shipped overseas? Tough luck. Pension disappeared? That’s the breaks. No health care? The emergency room will fix it. You’re on your own."
Polls have been showing for months now that more than three quarters of Americans think their country is going in the wrong direction and that the economy is the top issue of concern for voters.
The Treasury department was expected to announce plans Sunday to take control of two mortgage giants, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which own or guarantee nearly half of the nation’s mortgages totaling more than five trillion dollars.
The government-chartered, shareholder-owned firms have been whipsawed by the financial meltdown and foreclosure crisis of the past year, losing some 90 percent of their value on fears of losses from mortgage defaults.
McCain said Saturday the bailout was necessary in order to "keep people in their homes" and both candidates warned that it could not end up being a bailout for shareholders and executives.
Friday’s jobs report also painted a bleak picture as US unemployment jumped to a five-year high of 6.1 percent in August after 84,000 jobs were slashed.
With the full impact of last week’s Republican jamboree not yet felt, a Gallup tracking poll has Obama up by two points and Rasmussen has him ahead 46 to 45 percent, confirming McCain squelched his rival’s post-convention surge.
But it was unclear whether McCain’s surprise pick of Palin, who is popular among staunch conservatives and religious "values" voters but has zero national experience, will pay off.
A new opinion poll showed American voters remained lukewarm about the youthful Alaska governor, doubting her readiness for major league politics after a mere 20 months at the state’s helm.
While six in 10 of those surveyed approved of McCain’s selection of Palin, only 42 percent believed she had the kind of experience it takes to serve effectively as president if that became necessary, according to the ABC News poll.
Palin has, however, helped draw huge crowds to McCain’s rallies where devoted fans chant "Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!" and carry signs proclaiming "Palin Power" and "Sarah you had us at hello."