Rivals clash in final US debate

McCain and Obama spar in most heated debate to date ahead of US presidential elections.

    Barack Obama and John McCain face debate moderator Bob Schieffer at Hofstra University [AFP]

    "We've got to reverse this, I'm disappointed that [Henry] Paulson [the US treasury secretary] and others haven't made this their priority."

    'Worst crisis'

    Obama responded: "Everyone understands we are experiencing the worst crisis since the Great Depression."

    He said the bailout financial plan was "an important first step" but added "what we haven't yet seen is a rescue package for the middle class".


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    The US government should "focus on jobs, helping families with tax cuts, getting homeowners to do mortgages" and getting the "financial package to work quicker", Obama said.

    He added it was necessary to have a rescue package for the middle class, with a focus on boosting domestic employment and offering families cuts in taxation, adding that the long-term challenges were to "fix energy policy, fix healthcare and invest in the education system".

    The debate quickly took on a hard edge, with McCain aggressively focussing on comments made by "Joe the plumber" - an American voter Obama addressed during his campaigning - to try and highlight differences between the pair.

    He said to Obama: "What you wanna do to Joe the plumber is to have tax increases and not let him realise the American dream [of home ownership]."

    Aggressive tack

    Asked by Schieffer if they would cut US government spending plans because of the economic crisis, McCain said "we need to freeze spending" while Obama answered "we need to cut programmes that don't work".

    There was tension between the pair, with McCain taking an aggressive stance towards Obama.

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    Obama said that a McCain presidency would effectively be "eight more years" of George Bush, the US president.

    McCain declared: "I'm not George Bush."

    Asked about negative campaigning that had reportedly marred both candidates' campaigns, Obama said McCain "runs negative campaigns" while McCain said "Obama has double standards".

    McCain said: "It's been a tough campaign ... Obama has spent more money on negative political ads then any other campaign in history and I can prove it.

    Addressing his rival, he said: "You didn't keep your word, you didn't tell the American people the truth."

    'Failed policies'

    Obama responded by saying: "The American people cannot afford four more years of failed economic policies, we need to talk about what's most pressing to them - the economic crisis.

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    "I would love to see in the next three weeks us talking about economic, healthcare and sending kids to college."

    Rob Reynolds said: "I thought McCain's best moment was saying he's not Bush and if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should 'have done it four years ago'.

    "McCain looked pretty strong; Obama jabbed back that McCain's policies were the same as Bush's, but he didn't look as strong."

    Schieffer asked both candidates: "Why is your vice-presidential running mate better than your opponent's?"

    McCain said his running mate, Sarah Palin, was "a role model for women" while Obama said Joe Biden had "huge experience".

    Schieffer queried how either of the pair would reduce US dependence on foreign oil in their first term.

    McCain said he would seek to invest in nuclear power, while Obama said he would promote alternative energies.

    Rob Reynolds said: "The most genuine - and the angriest - exchange between the two ... was on Schieffer's question about negative campaigning. Obama kept his cool but McCain seemed to get angry towards the end.

    "Overall, I think it was a strong performance by John McCain - he appeared to be aggressively questioning Obama on a number of issues, without really appearing offensively aggressive.

    "Joe the plumber - he is the stand-in for the middle class American who's worried about the economic meltdown - was the person that both McCain and Obama were trying to reach."

    He said the pair showed "very controlled emotions, especially Obama. He didn't make any mistakes". 

    "His job was not to step on himself. McCain's job was to really not appear unpleasant ... and I think both of them did their jobs."

    Under pressure

    McCain, the Republican candidate, was under pressure to put in a strong performance to help reverse his position in the opinion polls.

    The debate was held amid opinion polls that show Obama gaining strength nationally and also in battleground states.

    The lastest New York Times/CBS poll showed Obama on 53 per cent and McCain on 39.

    The debate was the last big event in the campaign before both candidates hit the trail for the two-and-a- half week drive to the elections on November 4.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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