Sen. Barack Obama says the personal attacks levied against him by the campaign of his presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, particularly references to his association with 1960s anti-war radical Bill Ayers, are an attempt to "score cheap political points."
"Why don't we just clear it up right now," Obama told ABC News' Charlie Gibson in an exclusive interview for World News. "I'll repeat again what I've said many times. This is a guy who engaged in some despicable acts 40 years ago when I was eight years old. By the time I met him, 10 or 15 years ago, he was a college professor of education at the University of Illinois . . . And the notion that somehow he has been involved in my campaign, that he is an adviser of mine, that . . . I've 'palled around with a terrorist', all these statements are made simply to try to score cheap political points."
Obama said that the McCain campaign is making personal attacks "the centerpiece of the discussion in the closing weeks of a campaign where we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and we're in the middle of two wars."
"I think that makes very little sense, not just to me but to the American people," Obama said.
Obama said he believes the personal attacks are an attempt to "change the subject" and draw attention away from the issue at the front of most voters' minds: the struggling economy.
"I mean, you've had their spokespeople over the last couple of days say if we talk about the economic crisis, we lose. I mean, you can't be much more blatant than that," he said.
Obama also said he was surprised some of those attacks weren't brought up by his opponent at the debate Tuesday night at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
"I am surprised that, you know, we've been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days, that he wasn't willing to say it to my face. But I guess we've got one last debate. So presumably, if he ends up feeling that he needs to, he will raise it during the debate."
Speaking about the lack of faith Americans have expressed in the government's ability to solve the economic crisis, Obama told Gibson that "people are right to be cynical" and criticized his opponent's approach to the crisis.
"Frankly, you know, Senator McCain ended up lurching from place to place on this issue," he said. "And that, I think, is not the kind of leadership that we're going to need if we're going to be able to guide the economy out of this perilous position."
Obama said he was frustrated by the discussion of the financial crisis.
"Part of it's the format," he said. "Look, you've got two minutes to respond to a financial crisis. And so, you know, if we had had more time, I think we could have had a better debate about what's happening right now."
"One of the reasons that we are doing well right now in the campaign -- and we've still got four weeks, which is eternity in politics -- I think the people looked at my approach over the last three or four weeks during this economic crisis, which was consistent, which set out very clear principles from the first day, principles, by the way, that ended up being adopted by Secretary Paulson and were embedded in this rescue plan, that they saw I wasn't trying to play politics with the issue," Obama said.