With less than four weeks until Election Day, the 2008 presidential campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama is already ugly, but it's now getting personal as each candidate today questioned the other's character or ability to tell the truth.
The McCain campaign played offense, doling out his fiercest and most sustained criticism yet at a campaign stop in Albuquerque, N.M.
"You need to know who you're putting in the White House -- where the candidate came from and what he or she believes," McCain said. "And you need to know now, before it is time to choose."
McCain drew comparisons between his veteran status in Congress and the "unfamiliar" Obama.
"For a guy who's already authored two memoirs, he's not exactly an open book," McCain said.
In addition to making character attacks, McCain raised questions about Obama's ties to foreign donors from the Gaza Strip.
"His campaign had to return $33,000 in illegal foreign funds from Palestinian donors, and this weekend, we found out about another $28,000 in illegal donations," McCain said to the crowd. "Why has Senator Obama refused to disclose the people who are funding his campaign?"
McCain's attacks come after Sarah Palin repeatedly criticized Obama over the weekend for his alleged ties to one of the founders of the radical Weather Underground, William Ayers, who has since become a University of Illinois professor and a leading figure in education reform. With all the mud flying, top Obama aides accused McCain today of waging a "dishonest, despicable smear campaign."
At the same time, the Obama camp got down and dirty, launching a Web documentary reminding voters that in the 1980s McCain was one of the "Keating 5," a group of lawmakers who were investigated for trying to fend off charges against a campaign contributor who was a major player in the savings and loan scandal.
McCain was later exonerated of wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee, but criticized for "poor judgment."
The two candidates, who will be face to face at Tuesday night's debate, traded long distance personal shots today as the rhetoric heated up.
"My opponent has invited serious questioning by announcing a few weeks ago that he would 'take off the gloves,'" McCain was expected to tell a rally in Alburquerque, N.M. according to an advance text of his speech. "Since then, whenever I have questioned his policies or his record, he has called me a liar."
The Arizona senator added, "I don't need lessons about telling the truth to American people. And were I ever to need any improvement in that regard, I probably wouldn't seek advice from a Chicago politician."
Earlier in the day, Obama, who is from Chicago, got in his own personal dig about McCain.
"If John McCain wants to have a character debate then I am happy to have that debate," Obama said on the Tom Joyner radio show.
Obama was unapologetic about the raising of the Keating 5 issue and suggested it was in retaliation for the McCain camp raising the Ayers allegations.
"One of the things we've done during this campaign: We don't throw the first punch, but we'll throw the last," Obama said.