June 11, 2008 -- The rhetoric is heating up on the summer campaign trail as presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama stake out starkly differently platforms on the economy, which has quickly emerged as the No. 1 issue.
Despite their mantras that they will bring change to Washington, the debate on managing the nation's wealth has a strong echo of past campaigns: Democrats will raise taxes, Republicans favor the wealthy.
"There will be change in Washington," McCain, a Republican from Arizona, told a group of small business owners in Washington Tuesday. "The question is what kind of change? Will we enact the single largest tax increase since the Second World War, as my opponent proposes?"
Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, in turn, said between campaign stops in St. Louis Tuesday, "I've said that McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term. But the truth is, when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush. McCain wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthy and he hasn't even explained how to pay for it."
While the tactics may be familiar, few issues in this year's political campaigns are as sharply different as Obama's and McCain's stands on the economy.
McCain favors extending tax cuts enacted under President Bush, cuts that the Democrats have charged favor the wealthy. Although McCain initially agreed with the Democrats and opposed the tax cuts, he has since made preserving them a central part of his economic plans.
Obama has vowed to roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest and says he wants to boost taxes on capital gains and dividends.
The split on taxes has triggered some of their toughest attacks on each other.
"Under Senator Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise," McCain has said.
Obama counters, "The way that he's characterizing what I'm prescribing is just wrong. My tax reform plan would cut taxes for 95 percent of workers."
The two have also sparred over how to ease the pain at the gas pump. McCain has called for a gas tax holiday to lower the price of gasoline, a move that Obama has derided as a "gimmick" that would hurt state coffers while saving drivers only a few bucks.
Instead, Obama has proposed a second round of tax rebates and expanding unemployment benefits, a package worth $50 billion.
They have also clashed on the housing crisis and health insurance, and have invoked past presidents in attempts to associate their rival with unpopular policies and personalities.
Obama likes to tell supporters that McCain is running for "Bush's third term." McCain found a comeback Tuesday, claiming Obama is running for "Jimmy Carter's second term," an administration remembered for its humiliation at the hands of Iranian hostage-takers as well as its liberal tax policies.
Obama has moved to take charge of the economic issue by making it the focus of two-week long tour of battleground states, like Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.
McCain is also stumping in battleground states and has not shied away from the issue.