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.
The Democratic candidate cited a need for a "measured, calm, steady response to the crisis but one that recognizes that it's outrageous we're in this position to begin with and that we've got to make sure that whatever we do is working for ordinary people."
Obama praised short-term actions such as the worldwide interest rate cuts to increase liquidity and the boosting of commercial paper markets to help with short-term loans, but said that the ultimate solution would need to be a long-term restructuring of the financial regulatory system.
"I do think that we don't have the regulatory infrastructure, either domestically or globally, to deal with global capital markets. We have a 20th century system, and we've got a 21st century market," said Obama.
In addition to making sure that the $700 billion dollar economic rescue or bailout plan succeeds, Obama also said there's a need to "go back to basics" and "deal with a fundamental imbalance in our economy."
In addressing his economic plan, Obama said he would focus on four fundamental "linchpins" of the U.S. economy: creating jobs, developing an energy strategy that works, fixing the health care system -- "the real looming nightmare out there when it comes to our budget deficits and our national debt" -- and changing the education system.
"I think [Alan] Greenspan, the former Fed chairman, talked about irrational exuberance, we now have irrational despair," Obama told Gibson. "You know, trust is broken down in our financial institutions."
The McCain campaign has presented Obama as an untested and unknown political figure, but Obama said, "the notion that people don't know who I am is a little hard to swallow."
"I've been running for president for the last two years. I've campaigned in 49 states. Millions of people have heard me speak at length on every topic under the sun. I've been involved now in 25 debates, going on my 26th. And I've written two books which any -- everybody who reads them will say are about as honest a set of reflections by, at least, a politician as are out there," Obama said.
The day after the second presidential debate, Obama held a rally before nearly 20,000 people at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.
Though the state hasn't favored a Democratic presidential candidate since President Lyndon B. Johnson over Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964, Obama is in a tight race with McCain in Indiana.
At the rally, Obama also said we need new direction and leadership in Washington, and said that if he was elected he would do a number of things differently.
"If you've seen President Bush come out of the Rose Garden for two minutes at a time and, you know, not give a clear sense of what is taking place, describing this -- describing this rescue package as -- seeing it described as a bailout where the average person still thinks that what's happening is $700 billion is going out the door, and we're never going to see it again, and it's going to a bunch of Wall Street types," he said.
On the "Great American Battleground Bus Tour" Gibson spoke to voters about what it will take to sway undecided voters in highly contested states and the economy was on top of almost everyone's list.
Gibson watched the debate with college students at Bowling Green, and many felt that the candidates didn't address their issues, such as student loans.
"First of all, we've been talking about student loans probably every day during course of this campaign," Obama said. "I mean, I've got a very specific plan to make sure that students are able to afford to go to college in exchange for community service or military service."
"Our health care costs are escalating so quickly that we may not be able to do anything about it," he said. "But one thing I've got say, though, despite the expressions of concern and skepticism on the part of young people, I wouldn't be sitting here a month away from the election with a pretty good shot at getting elected president had it not been for the extraordinary idealism and hopefulness of young people. We have seen an outpouring of involvement and passion on their part that I don't think we've seen in a generation. And that makes me optimistic."