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Baltimore Sun - A Blast by McCain

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Republican says Obama shows pattern of weak leadership on Iraq, economy

By Paul West

Heading into the first debate of the fall campaign, John McCain used a speech in Baltimore yesterday to accuse Barack Obama of a pattern of lax leadership.

McCain revived an explosive line of attack against his Democratic rival by claiming that Obama had put his own presidential ambitions ahead of the country's interests.

"Whether it's a reversal in war, or an economic emergency, he reacts as a politician and not as a leader, seeking an advantage for himself instead of a solution for his country," McCain told a gathering National Guard members at the city convention center.

Obama, speaking earlier in North Carolina, blamed the financial crisis on a hands-off approach to economic regulation that McCain has followed, and warned that electing the Republican would mean more of the same.

"We're now seeing the disastrous consequences of this philosophy all around us - on Wall Street as well as Main Street. And yet Senator McCain, who candidly admitted not long ago that he doesn't know as much about economics as he should, wants to keep going down the same, disastrous path," Obama said.

The long-distance exchanges came at the start of one of the most important weeks of the campaign. Both men are jockeying for advantage ahead of Friday's presidential debate, an event both sides regard as pivotal.

As the credit crisis exploded in recent days, Obama moved ahead of McCain in national opinion surveys. The Democrat had a four-point lead in the latest Gallup Daily Tracking poll, released yesterday.

McCain, in his first Maryland public appearance of the general election campaign, sought to turn Obama's cautious response to the financial meltdown against him.

"Senator Obama has declined to put forth a plan," McCain told the National Guard Association annual convention. "At a time of crisis, when leadership is needed, Senator Obama has simply not provided it."

Obama has outlined in general terms his intention, if elected, to toughen regulation and oversight of financial institutions. Yesterday, he joined other Democratic leaders in demanding that Washington provide fresh economic aid to ordinary Americans when it acts on the Bush administration's rescue plan for capital markets and financial institutions.

Congress needs to approve a stimulus plan "that will put money in the pockets of working families, save jobs, and prevent painful budget cuts and tax hikes in our states," Obama said at a campaign event in Charlotte, N.C.

McCain, whose initial reaction to Wall Street's turmoil was to describe the U.S. economy as fundamentally strong, has, like Obama, supported actions being taken in Washington. McCain has largely avoided offering a detailed remedy of his own, but did propose creation of a new government agency to anticipate similar problems in the future.

Before the friendly audience of military officials, McCain hit Obama again for opposing the Iraq surge, and tied it to a broader attack theme: that Obama's candidacy has been characterized by an overarching ambition.

"Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president. What's missing is the judgment to be commander in chief," said McCain, who was greeted enthusiastically by hundreds of Guards.

"Both candidates in this election pledge to end this war and bring our troops home. The great difference is that I intend to win it first," McCain added, bringing the audience to its feet.

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden is to address the Guard convention today .

Obama and McCain will spend much of the week preparing for the first of three debates, devoted, by prior arrangement, to foreign policy. But it is likely to feature, at least in part, the candidates' views on events that have shaken markets around the world.

Obama, describing conditions as "a global crisis," said the United States "must insist that other nations join us in helping secure the financial markets."

Bush administration officials are attempting to orchestrate an international response. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said yesterday, for the first time, that some of the $700 billion in emergency aid the administration is requesting could go to foreign financial institutions.

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