With Barack Obama’s lead growing by the day and time running out, John McCain needed to be more aggressive in the third and final presidential debate. He was. But polls immediately afterward indicated that while he did make an impression, Obama was seen as Wednesday night’s winner.
“Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I’m going to give a new direction to this economy,” McCain said, clearly distancing himself for the first time from an incumbent with sinking approval ratings.
He painted Obama as a big spender who would raise taxes and indulge in class warfare. “I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around. You told him you wanted to spread the wealth around,” the Republican Senator from Arizona said.
While McCain was angry and sarcastic, Obama defended himself without losing his cool. “I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks,” he said. “What the American people can’t afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies.” According to the polls, McCain’s attacks haven’t played well with the voters.
The format of the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, was different from that of the first two. The contenders sat at a table, and the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, asked them questions about domestic issues. The candidates were allowed follow-up questions and statements.
When asked about the negative tone of the campaign, McCain suggested it wouldn’t have taken such a turn if Obama had agreed to participate in town-hall meetings. “Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history. And I can prove it,” he said.
Obama said a poll by CBS showed that “two-thirds of the American people think that Senator McCain is running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine.”
On his relationship with 1960s radical William Ayers, who hosted a political event for him early in his career, Obama said: “Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House.” The Democrat also distanced himself from the community group ACORN, which has been accused of fraud in voter registration.
When asked to compare the two running mates, Obama did not criticise Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. But McCain said the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, had been wrong on many foreign policy and national security issues.
Other issues that were debated included health care, education, abortion, energy policy and Supreme Court appointments.
The election is 19 days away.