White House Contenders Trade Economic Attacks After McCain Home Gaffe

McCain said that he wasn't sure of how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own.

CHESAPEAKE, Va., Aug. 21, 2008— -- Sen. Barack Obama says his Republican rival Sen. John McCain is out of touch and "just doesn't get it."

Obama's argument sprang from comments made by McCain Wednesday during an interview with Politico's Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen in which the Arizona senator said he wasn't sure of how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own.

"I think -- I'll have my staff get to you," McCain said.

"It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you," he added.

Obama, whom McCain has tried to portray as an arugula-nibbling, fancy-berry-tea-quaffing elitist, used the gaffe to further his argument that McCain is out of touch with average Americans.

"If you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy is fundamentally strong," Obama shot back during a campaign event at John Tyler Community College in Virginia.

"But if you're like me and you've got one house," he continued, "or you're like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so that they don't lose their home, you might have a different perspective."

The Obama campaign thinks the gaffe may mark a "metaphorical moment" in the campaign -- on par with notorious presidential election gaffes like in 1992 when it was widely reported, perhaps unfairly, that President George H.W. Bush didn't know what a grocery scanner was or in this past year when former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was busted for getting a pair of $400 haircuts.

"They think it's going to have that kind of power," ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said on "World News With Charles Gibson." "The McCain team says, 'No way.'"

The McCain campaign responded to Obama's criticism by invoking, among other things, his ties to convicted land developer Tony Rezko as well as the handsome sum he made last year from book sales.

"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?" asked McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

Obama, McCain Trade Attack Ads on Economic Woes

Capitalizing on the misstep, the Obama campaign launched a national cable television ad today.

The spot highlights McCain's seven homes and asserts that he's out of touch with the country's economic struggles.

The McCain camp responded with an ad of its own, highlighting Obama's relationship to Rezko.

"If you want to talk about a housing problem," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers told ABC News, echoing the title of the ad, "Sen. Obama certainly has one when he bought his million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon."

Obama also pounced on comments that McCain made during last weekend's Saddleback Church forum. McCain glibly offered Rick Warren, the pastor, his definition of a rich person: someone who makes $5 million a year.

"I guess if you're only making $3 million a year then you're middle class," Obama said. "I guess that's what he meant."

Even one of Obama's potential vice presidential candidates got in on the act.

"I understand that Sen. McCain was asked yesterday this question, 'How many houses do you own?,' and he couldn't answer that question. He couldn't count high enough apparently to even know how many houses he owns," Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine told CNN's "American Morning."

Balancing Attacks and Respect

It's a tricky balance as Obama goes on the offensive against McCain but also tries to respect his White House rival's "compelling personal story."

Obama frequently mentions McCain's prisoner-of-war experience and today described it as something "none of us could imagine."

But the Democratic contender quickly pivoted to the attack.

"There's just a fundamental gap of understanding between John McCain's world and what people are going through every single day here in America," he said.

Surprise Obama VP: Hillary Clinton or Al Gore?

Before McCain's comments Wednesday, Democrats were more focused on whom Obama would select as his running mate. No doubt the choice will make a difference.

According to new polls from both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, the candidates are in a dead heat, with Obama polling at 45 percent and McCain polling at 42 percent -- both polls within the margins of error.

The figure that most concerns Democrats is the 44 percent of those polled who say Obama is prepared to be president versus the 68 percent who feel McCain is prepared.

The tightening poll numbers could have an effect on Obama's vice presidential pick.

"[The Obama campaign] certainly seems to be signaling that the person will have instantly recognizable national security experience that means Joe Biden, maybe Evan Bayh, not Tim Kaine of Virginia and maybe even the big surprise, you know, someone like Hillary Clinton or Al Gore," Stephanopoulos reported on "World News."

ABC News' Andrew Fies, Avery Miller and Natalie Gewargis contributed to this report.