July 28, 2008 -- With only 99 days until Election Day, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are exchanging blows on the issue of foremost concern to a majority of Americans: the economy.
Obama, D-Ill., returning from a nine-day sprint through the Middle East and Europe, hosted a meeting of economic titans in Washington, while across the country, McCain, R-Ariz., chose an oil derrick in Bakersfield, Calif., as a backdrop to make his case for a comprehensive energy plan.
"We know that hardworking Americans today are suffering from high gas prices," McCain told the crowd, connecting pain at the pump and the country's dependency on foreign oil to the troubled economy at large.
Obama's event looked more like a faux Cabinet meeting.
"The economic emergency is growing more severe, jobs are down, wages are falling," the Democratic contender declared, surrounded by two former Bush administration advisors -- William Donaldson, who was SEC chairman, and Paul O'Neill, who served as treasury secretary -- both recent additions to Obama's growing list of economic advisors, as well as billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Robert Rubin, who was treasury secretary under President Clinton.
After Obama's world tour, both candidates are shifting their focus to the housing crisis, gas prices, the deficit, jobs and the economy in general.
"It seems every time they start to talk about it, they would rather talk about something else," said ABC News consultant and former Bush campaign official Matthew Dowd, referring to the economy. "McCain would rather talk about Iraq or terrorism, and Barack Obama would rather talk about, you know, the historic nature of candidacy or a big speech on faith or public service."
As the White House rivals try to appeal to independent voters, both candidates are running to the political spectrum's center. Participants in Obama's meeting on America's economic status included politicos from both sides of the aisle.
"You know, I think it's a good thing that presidential candidates reach out to people independent of what might be presumed to be their party affiliation," O'Neill said.
Donaldson, who served for more than two years under President Bush, even picked up a bit of Obama's mantra.
"I believe in what he's trying to do and I think we need change," he said.
In his run towards the middle, McCain is using more populist language, and targeting corporate America.
On ABC's "This Week" Sunday, McCain claimed that Wall Street was to blame for the sub-prime lending crisis. After news was announced today of next year's projected record $482 billion deficit, McCain attacked Bush, saying, "there is no more striking reminder of the need to reverse the profligate spending that has characterized this administration's fiscal policy."
This week, after his nine-day trip with the focus on foreign affairs, Obama returns to the homefront and domestic policy.
The Democrat's highly publicized and largely successful trip earned him good marks, but may have cost the candidate valuable time talking about the economy at home.
During his last public statement overseas, in London over the weekend, Obama expressed some concern that, while the trip may have garnered him good press, it may also have taken him off message when it comes to the issues on which voters are most focused.
"I wouldn't even be surprised if, that in some polls, that you saw a little bit of a dip as a consequence," he said. "We have been out of the country for a week. People are worried about gas prices and home foreclosures."
ABC News' Sunlen Miller, Bret Hovell, Avery Miller and Natalie Gewargis contributed to this report.