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.
During the 13-minute long documentary on McCain and the Keating 5 incident, William Black, former deputy director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., states, "Fraud is the creation of trust and its betrayal. The 'Keating 5' involved all the things that have brought the modern crisis. Sen. McCain has not learned the lessons, and has continued to follow policies that are going to produce a disaster."
McCain, Obama Camps Attack Before Second Debate
The two campaigns are dredging up the past as they prepare for their second of three presidential debates Tuesday.
The anti-McCain ad came as GOP veep candidate Sarah Palin spent the weekend in front of large crowds pounding Obama for his alleged ties to Ayers, co-founder of a radical anti-war group that carried out a series of bombings in the early 1970s.
"I'm afraid this is someone who thinks America is imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist," Palin charged. "That has nothing to do with change we can believe in."
McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer included a new target this morning, citing Obama's ties to Tony Rezko, a man who has been convicted of fraud and who helped Obama obtain a mortgage on his Chicago home.
"Most Americans don't get a sweetheart deal from a convicted felon," Pfotenhauer told CNN.
In addition, Palin suggested in an interview with The New York Times that Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was also fair game for criticism.
After tapes emerged showing Wright blaming the United States for provoking the 9/11 attacks and quoting Wright shouting, "God damn America," Obama later abandoned Wright.
Despite Palin's willingness to go after Wright, McCain senior adviser Mark Salter said that the campaign will not attack Obama's relationship to the fiery minister.
"No Wright attack," Salter said in an e-mail. Last spring, McCain said he would not make an issue of Obama's past relationship with Wright because he accepted Obama's dissociation from Wright.
New Anti-Obama Ad Labels Democratic Nominee 'Dangerous'
The McCain-Palin Republican ticket is trailing in the polls and even GOP guru Karl Rove predicted this weekend that McCain was headed for defeat unless he was able to turn things around.
In that effort, the attacks will keep coming.
Campaign watchdogs have estimated that nearly 100 percent of the ads being aired by McCain are negative.
The latest anti-Obama commercial is titled "Dangerous" and seizes on an Obama quote that American troops in Afghanistan are "just air-raiding villages and killing civilians."
The national TV ad hammers at one of the themes McCain and Palin will be sounding: that voters don't really know Obama, can't trust his judgment, that he's a liberal who doesn't support our fighting men and women.
"Who is Barack Obama?" is the opening line, and then pins several labels on him: "dangerous," "dishonorable," "risky" and "liberal."
Palin picked up that that quote during a Monday rally in Clearwater, Fla., after citing Obama's quote about "air raiding villages and killing civilians."
"That's not what our brave men and women are doing in Afghanistan. They are protecting us," the Republican vice presidential contender said before adding, "John McCain is a different kind of man. He believes in our troops and their mission."
McCain Expected to Go on Offense
McCain himself is expected to draw personal contrasts between himself and Obama in what his aides describe as a major speech in New Mexico Monday.
Pfotenhauer and Obama adviser Robert Gibbs squared off on "Good Morning America" before the speech.
Gibbs called the accusations being leveled by McCain surrogates "dishonest, despicable smear campaigns."
Obama himself talked about the accusations while on the stump this weekend in North Carolina. "That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas and running out of time," Obama said.
Both sides also defended their ads.
"Of course that's relevant," Gibbs said referring to the "Keating 5" scandal. "Do you trust John McCain to be the steward in this economy?"
"We're down to the last stretch of this campaign," Pfotenhauer told "GMA." "And it's absolutely essential that the American people hear not just about Sen. McCain's plans for the future ... but also about the decision they have to make about these two individuals who will be leading the United States and be commander in chief of our armed forces."
ABC News' David Wright contributed to this report.