Barack Obama outlined rules for a "21st-century regulatory system" Tuesday, and John McCain proposed a commission to examine the causes of failed banks and over-speculation in the financial markets.
In a week in which investment bank Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, brokerage firm Merrill Lynch was merged into Bank of America and insurance giant American Insurance Group struggled to find money to stay afloat, the presidential candidates refocused their campaigns on the economy.
They also released new ads: Obama hammered McCain for saying Monday that the fundamentals of the economy remain strong, and McCain promised "new rules for fairness and honesty" for failing institutions.
McCain and Obama tried to reassure voters worried about record home foreclosures and government assistance for Wall Street.
Presidents "don't set interest rates and can't stop people from making bad investment decisions," said non-partisan financial analyst Stan Collender of Qorvis Communications. But there are ways they can influence markets, from "jawboning to appointing the Treasury Secretary to proposing legislation."
He said presidents must rely on "the power to persuade" and ease voters' fears about their savings and investments. "Ultimately, any economy is built on confidence," he said.
McCain vowed at an Ohio rally to crack down on "the kind of wild speculation that can put our markets at risk." Appearing earlier on NBC, he proposed a special panel "to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it."
"This foundation of our economy, the American worker, is strong, but it has been put at risk by the greed and mismanagement of Wall Street and Washington," McCain said later in Florida.
Obama told a Colorado audience that McCain punted by proposing a commission to study the problem. "This isn't 9/11," he said, referring to the bipartisan panel that reviewed the 2001 terrorist attacks.
McCain "has spent decades in Washington supporting financial institutions instead of their customers," Obama said.
He proposed tougher oversight on lenders that receive federal funds and the identification of "systemic risks."
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said McCain's comment about strong economic fundamentals was a "huge mistake." Some voters "are going to wonder, 'What planet are you on?' "
GOP pollster Ed Goeas, who works for McCain, said McCain has long campaigned against corporate malfeasance. "You're going to see him make the case that those people should be held accountable," he said.