HARRISBURG, Pa. - The major nominees played to their strengths yesterday as Democrat Barack Obama focused on the economy in the swing state of Florida while Republican John McCain emphasized his experience and credentials to be president during a visit to Pennsylvania.
With just two weeks to go until Election Day, McCain stepped up his attacks on Obama during a rally before an enthusiastic crowd in the Forum Auditorium, a 1,763-seat concert and lecture hall in the State Capitol Complex in Harrisburg.
Supporters loudly chanted "USA! USA!" and waved red, white and blue pompoms, at one point interrupting McCain with a chant of "Pennsylvania loves John McCain!" He chuckled in response.
Recalling his days as a Navy aviator, McCain offered a personal perspective on comments by Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, to argue that Obama was not ready for America's "many enemies abroad in this dangerous world."
Biden predicted Sunday at a fundraiser in Seattle that, if elected, Obama would be tested in an international crisis early in his administration, just as President John F. Kennedy was tested by Soviet leaders in the Cuban missile crisis. Historians regard the two-week standoff in October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union as the closest the two superpowers came to a nuclear exchange during the Cold War.
McCain, 72, said he "sat in the cockpit" of a bomber aboard the flight deck of the USS Enterprise at the height of the crisis.
"I had a target," he said. "My friends, you know how close we came."
Obama, he argued, "won't have the right response" in a crisis.
"We've seen the wrong response over and over during this campaign," McCain said. "He opposed the surge strategy that is bringing us victory in Iraq and will bring us victory in Afghanistan. He said he would sit down unconditionally with the world's worst dictators. When Russia invaded Georgia, Senator Obama said the invaded country should show restraint. He's been wrong on all of these.
"We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight - hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad. We have to act. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it."
The charge that Obama lacks experience is one that McCain and the Republicans had used early in the campaign until the economic meltdown forced a change in priorities. National opinion polls show that voters trust Obama more on economic issues and that financial fears have propelled him into the lead, though some polls show the race tightening.
Campaigning in Florida, one of the battleground states that could decide the election, Obama noted that the state lost 11,000 jobs in September alone. He blamed "eight years of greed on Wall Street and irresponsibility in Washington" and said that "when we spend $10 billion a month in Iraq, that means less money to fix crumbling roads and bridges here at home."
With Florida and 20 other states facing budget shortfalls, Obama also blamed the White House - and his rival - for ignoring pleas for help.