Is Wall Street meltdown moment of truth in White House race?
by Stephen Collinson
2 hours, 56 minutes ago
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - It took a real-world crisis to wrench the White House race away from lipstick and pigs, with the Wall Street meltdown offering a sudden chance of a breakout moment for Barack Obama or John McCain.
After feuding all year over who could best handle a "3 am" call in the White House, the candidates faced a real judgment call when iconic investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, sparking global stocks contagion.
Multiple polls show the staggering US economy is the number one issue 49 days before election day, but also reveal Democrat Obama and Republican McCain have yet to convince a majority of voters they know how to fix it.
"Neither one of them has been able to craft a message that has been able to reach the American people," said Andrew Dowdle, assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas.
Both McCain and Obama went in search of that message Monday, courting voters who fear seeing their pension funds evaporate in the stocks freefall amid warnings other revered US financial instutitions were on the rocks.
Their focus on issues issue contrasted with last week's gutter politics which included the McCain camp accusing Obama of insulting Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin, in a distortion of his use of the phrase "lipstick on a pig."
Obama Monday immediately blamed eight years of Republican rule for the crisis, and predicted McCain would bring four more years of the same.
His Republican rival promised a regulatory reform drive in Wall Street, and said Obama would hike taxes and thwart economic growth.
But the Arizona Senator, who now leads his rival by a few points in national polls, opened himself up by declaring in Florida that the fundamentals of the economy were "strong."
"Senator McCain, what economy are you talking about?" Obama asked at a campaign event in Colorado, as his supporters immediately branded McCain as out of touch and the inheritor to the Bush administration's economic legacy.
Earlier in the campaign Obama tried to capitalize on a comment by McCain that he did not know as much about the economy as he should.
Republicans have controlled the US purse strings for eight years, the unemployment rate is at a five-year high of 6.1 percent, gasoline and food prices are soaring and house prices are tumbling.
Obama and the Democrats seem yet to have reached the levels of empathy with hard-pressed voters achieved by his primary rival Hillary Clinton, or famously by her husband Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign.
"It is amazing that they have not been able to do that to this point," said Dowdle.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month found 47 percent of voters trusted Obama to run the economy and 42 percent trusted McCain. The Democrat had enjoyed a much wider lead on the issue for much of this year.
McCain has struggled to navigate away from Bush economic legacy, and Democrats argue that his economic policies barely differ from those of the current president.
But Carly Fiorina, a top economic advisor to McCain, blamed Wall Street, lax regulation by the Bush administration and two years of Democrats in control of Congress for the economic blight.
On MSNBC, Fiorina accused the Bush administration of presiding over a "Wild, Wild, West," with little regulation -- positioning McCain as a agent of reform and change -- not a prisoner of the president's legacy.
McCain's spokesman Tucker Bounds issued an acidic response to Obama's complaints about the Arizona senator's "fundamentals" comment.
"Barack Obama's short career as a public servant has been defined by pessimism, defeatism and weakness in the face of the great challenges of our time," he said.
"His lack of faith in American workers may explain his willingness to raise taxes during a struggling economy, but it is not way to lead our country."
That comment appeared to be a direct attempt to draw attention to Obama's short time as a national figure, and to raise doubts that he was fit to take on the daunting challenge of pulling the US economy out of its hole.
McCain is expected to press home that argument against Obama in three potentially decisive presidential debates beginning on September 26.
Obama supporters will see the forums as his best chance to finally thrust home a winning message on the economy.http://www.yahoo.com/s/954222