GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - As a falling stock market stoked fears that the nation's financial system was spinning out of control, the presidential candidates sought yesterday to shape the economic debate.
Democrat Barack Obama accused John McCain of being out of touch after the Arizona Republican said the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remained strong. Their running mates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, joined a debate that became more acrimonious as financial losses increased throughout the day.
"People are frightened by these events," McCain told thousands of supporters at a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Fla. "The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very, difficult" times.
Obama said McCain "doesn't get what's happening between the mountain in Sedona where he lives and the corridors of Washington where he works."
"Why else would he say, today, of all days, just a few hours ago - think about this - we just woke up to news of financial disaster, and this morning he said that the fundamentals of the economy are still strong. What's more fundamental than the ability to find a job that pays the bills and can raise a family?"
McCain later tried to refine his comments at a campaign stop in Orlando, Fla., insisting that he was referring to the effectiveness and innovation of the American worker and small businesses, which he has made a key target of his campaign.
"Those are the fundamentals of America, and I think they are strong," he told several hundred people at the Asociacion Borinquena de Florida Central.
But McCain also spoke more darkly about the nation's economic struggles. "I know Americans are hurting now, and the fundamentals of our economy are at risk," he said. "Have no doubt about how serious this problem is."
He blamed Wall Street and pledged changes: "We've seen self-interest, greed, irresponsibility and corruption. Enough is enough. Enough is enough. We'll put an end, as I said, to running Wall Street like a casino."
But the Democrats repeatedly tried to bring voters back to their core message: that the economy was in serious trouble after two terms under President Bush and that McCain would continue Bush's policies. "Ladies and gentlemen, I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn't run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain," Biden said during a campaign stop in Michigan.
Biden condemned what he said was "a culture in Washington where the very few wealthy and powerful have a seat at the table and the rest of us are on the menu."
McCain's economic programs are virtual copies of Bush's, he charged. "If you're ready for four more years of George Bush, John McCain is your man," Biden said.
The depth of yesterday's financial woes - including a drop of more than 500 points in the Dow Jones industrial average - prompted Democrats and Republicans alike to call for regulatory changes.
"We're going to put an end to the mismanagement and abuses in Washington and Wall Street that has resulted in this financial crisis," Palin told a crowd in Colorado, where she campaigned without McCain. "We're going to reform the way Wall Street does business and stop multi-million dollar payouts and golden parachutes to CEOs who break the public trust."
In Colorado, Obama also accused Republicans of using "false advertisements, lies and spin" to distract voters from the major issues at stake. The Illinois senator also sought to reclaim his image as an outsider who could shake up the Washington establishment, saying he upset leaders of his own party by pushing to stop favor-trading between lobbyists and lawmakers.
At an outdoor rally in western Colorado, Obama told nearly 6,000 supporters that the election was "not about Paris or Britney," alluding to McCain ads that liken Obama to tabloid celebrities. "It's not about lipstick. It's not about pigs. It's about you. It's about whether you'll be able to sell your home for what it's worth or put enough money away each week so that you can someday watch your child accept her college diploma."