-- Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has tried to distance himself from President Bush, sharply criticized his policies in an interview Thursday as he hit the key battleground state of Florida to attack Barack Obama's tax policies.
McCain, crisscrossing parts of the Sunshine State by bus, hammered away at economic issues as the Labor Department reported larger than expected new claims for jobless benefits.
Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, stopped in Indianapolis, a traditionally Republican stronghold, to encourage supporters to vote early. He then planned to head to Hawaii to visit his ailing 85-year-old grandmother.
As national and battleground polls continued to show McCain facing an uphill battle 12 days before the presidential election, the Republican senator lashed out at Bush policies in his interview with The Washington Times.
"Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the (financial) regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously," McCain said.
He also rejected the president's practice of issuing "signing statements" when he signs bills into law, in which the president has suggested that he would ignore elements of the bills, labeling them potentially unconstitutional.
"I would veto the bills or say, 'Look, I don't like it but I'll obey the law that's passed by Congress and signed by the president,'" McCain said. "I think the signing statements was not a correct implementation of the power of the executive. I think it was overstepping," he said.
McCain strongly rejected Bush's claims of executive privilege, often used to shield the White House from scrutiny.
"I don't agree with that either. I don't agree with (Vice President) Dick Cheney's allegation that he's part of both the legislative and the executive branch," he said.
As the campaigns entered the final two weeks, grim economic news continued to dominate the political debate.
On the stump, McCain on Thursday criticized Obama's plan for a middle-class tax plan, saying he wanted to "spread the wealth" by taking money from some taxpayers and giving it to others.
McCain sought to connect with blue-collar workers with regular references to "Joe the Plumber," an Ohio worker who got into a discussion last week on the campaign trail with Obama about his tax policies.
Hitting back, Obama also sought to rally blue-collar workers in his stop in Indiana.
"Who's looking out for steelworkers, who'se fighting for carpenters, who's fighting for teachers, who's fighting for teamsters?" he asked. "That's the president I want to be."
In Virginia Wednesday, Obama said the difference between McCain's tax plan and his is "who he wants to give tax cuts to and who I want to give tax cuts to .… My opponent doesn't want you to know this, but under my plan, tax rates will actually be less than they were under Ronald Reagan."
He also tried to needle McCain by saying that the Republican's tax proposal, which would cut taxes for the wealthy, was not aimed at "Joe the Plumber" but at "Joe the hedge-fund manager."
Obama's trip to Hawaii takes him off the campaign trail for almost two days. His grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who largely raised him, was recently released from the hospital and was described by the campaign as seriously ill after breaking a hip.
The Illinois senator told CBS' Early Show that it was important that he make the trip to Hawaii, particularly because he had been unable to get home before his mother died.
"My grandmother's the last one left," he told CBS. "She has really been the rock of the family, the foundation of the family. Whatever strength, discipline that I have, it comes from her.
And so I want to make sure that I don't — I don't make the same mistake twice.
As for the campaign, which shows Obama leading in national polls, the Democratic nominee said he believes the Democratic ticket will finish on top.
"I wouldn't have gotten in this race if I didn't think I was going to win," he said. "If it's tied going into Election Day, I like our chances because I think we've got enormous enthusiasm on the ground."
McCain, in his interview with The Washington Times, likewise said he expected to pull out a victory on Nov. 4, despite the latest polls.
"There is one lesson of history, and that is every time we've been written off, that's when we've had a comeback," McCain said.
Contributing: Douglas Stanglin in McLean, Va.; Associated Press