Economic Crises Challenge Candidates

The cascading crisis on Wall Street has underlined the economy as the No. 1 issue in the presidential campaign as the two sides jostle for an advantage in the unfolding financial disaster.

Both John McCain and White House rival Barack Obama issued cautious statements that offered no specifics about how they would deal with the financial market meltdown, but McCain used sharper language in a speech before a crowd in Jacksonville, Fla., that quickly came under attack from Obama.

"The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times, so I promise you: We will never put America in this position again," McCain vowed. "We will clean up Wall Street."

At a later stop in Orlando, McCain added, "We will stop multimillion dollar payouts to CEOs who have broken the public trust. We will put an end to running Wall Street like a casino. ... We will make sure that your savings, IRA, 401k and pension accounts are protected."

In addition, the Republican campaign put out a new ad titled "Crisis," which declared "Our economy in crisis. Only proven reformers John McCain and Sarah Palin can fix it."

The campaign wrestled over the economic issue amid the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the fire sale of Wall Street icon Merrill Lynch and the desperate restructuring efforts of insurance behemoth AIG.

Obama, a Democrat, has enjoyed an edge in public opinion polls when it comes to who is believed to be best equipped to handle the economy, and he has repeatedly described the McCain economic philosophy as a continuation of the Bush administration's policies.

Obama pounced on McCain's statement as evidence that his Republican rival is unaware of how Wall Street's problems affect average Americans.

"Just a few hours ago, this morning [McCain] said that the fundamentals of the economy are still strong," Obama told a crowd at the Cross Orchards Historic Site in Grand Junction, Colo.

As the crowd booed, Obama said, his voice rising, "Senator McCain, what economy are you talking about? ... What's more fundamental than knowing your life's savings is secure? What's more fundamental than knowing you'll have a roof over your head at the end of the day?"

Obama called the latest of Wall Street's disasters the "most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression" and blamed it on Republican policies.

"I certainly don't fault Sen. McCain for these problems," Obama said, "but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to."

He called the current Wall Street crisis more "evidence that too many folks in Washington and on Wall Street weren't minding the store," Obama said. He pointed to "eight years of policies that have shredded consumer protections, loosened oversight and regulation, and encouraged outsized bonuses to CEOs."

Obama noted that a new TV ad for McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, borrows one of Obama's trademark lines, saying McCain and Palin offer "leadership, experience, for the change we need."

"Instead of borrowing some of my lines, he needs to borrow some of my ideas," Obama said. "Change isn't about slogans. It's about substance."

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bear Stearns Challenging Candidates

Neither side offered specifics on how to deal with the unfolding economic drama, a stance similar to what occurred earlier this month when the federal government stepped in to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two gigantic quasi-governmental agencies that were threatened with collapse.

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