John McCain and Barack Obama are bracing to inherit an economy in turmoil next January, with an estimated record deficit of $482 billion -- the largest the nation has ever faced.
With Americans telling pollsters the slowing economy is their top concern going into the election, the 2008 presidential candidate who can best persuade voters to have faith in his economic plan may hold the advantage in November.
Both Obama and McCain have stepped up their efforts in recent days to convince Americans that they are both up to the job. However, they have vastly different ideas on what ails the U.S. economy and how to fix it.
Their economic agendas reflect stark differences in their life experiences and their conflicting philosophies about the role of government.
Obama, who was raised for a time by a single mother and whose first job was as an advocate for a public housing project in inner city Chicago, proposes a greater government role in driving an economy that creates good jobs for working families.
"He believes that the test of a successful economy is how that economy works for people and what it does for workers," said Obama's senior economics adviser Jason Furman. "Does it give them job security, does it give them good wages, does it give them good benefits?"
Advisers said Obama's roots as a community organizer in Chicago are reflected in his economic agenda, which proposes to scrap President Bush's tax cut for families making more than $250,000 and give a $1,000 tax break to middle- and low-income working families. Obama also advocates spending $21 billion per year on alternative energy and infrastructure projects, and supporting a second stimulus package worth $50 billion in an attempt to spur job growth.
McCain, a former fighter pilot and prisoner of war whose father and grandfather were both four-star U.S. Navy admirals, views the economic downturn through the prism of his military background.
"Our surge has succeeded in Iraq militarily, now we need an economic surge ... to keep jobs here at home and create new ones," McCain told voters in southeastern Ohio Wednesday.
Advisers said McCain believes national security is inextricably linked with economic security. They said he believes the key to economic growth is low taxes, incentives to keep companies in the country, free trade and reining in federal spending.
"Sen. McCain's economic plans are rooted in his belief that the role of government … on economic issues is to unleash the ingenuity, creativity and hard work of the American people and make it easier to create jobs," said McCain senior adviser Taylor Griffin.
Despite initially voting against Bush's tax cuts, McCain is now proposing to make them permanent and give additional tax cuts to corporations and eliminate the alternative minimum tax.
"The underlining themes … that are woven throughout his approach is not to punish productive behavior, keep tax rates low, create incentives for companies to stay in this country, lower the corporate tax rate and ... comprehensive spending reform," said McCain economic adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer.
Both presidential candidates are attempting to convince voters that they feel their economic pain. But so far voters trust Obama more than McCain -- by 19 percentage points -- to handle the economy, according to a July ABC News/Washington Post poll.