WASHINGTON / The US presidential campaign has turned even nastier, with candidates John McCain and Barack Obama blaming each other for the deepening financial crisis and Congress' failure to pass a $700 billion (Dh2.5 trillion) bailout plan. The Democrat candidate Barack Obama said yesterday that his Republican opponent had been opposing needed financial regulation for years. Mr McCain declared that Obama was putting his political ambitions ahead of the good of the nation, saying the race comes down to a simple question: "Country first or Obama first?" The vote in the the House of Representatives to reject an unprecedented bailout measure only fuelled what has become an increasingly bitter race between Mr McCain, a 26-year veteran of Congress and Vietnam prisoner of war, and Mr Obama, a first-term Illinois senator who is seeking to make history as America's first black president. More than two-thirds of Republicans - President George W Bush's own party - and 40 per cent of Democrats opposed the bill. The House vote sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a 777-point tailspin - its biggest point drop ever.
Mr McCain's chief economic advisor blamed the Democrats for the failed vote. "This bill failed because Barack Obama and the the Democrats put politics ahead of country," the senior policy advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin said. Mr McCain later added his own dig, accusing Mr Obama and his allies of injecting "unnecessary partisanship" into the effort to steady the economy. "Now is not the time to fix the blame, it's time to fix the problem," Mr McCain told reporters in Iowa. He urged lawmakers to return to work immediately to pass legislation. Aides said he would return to Washington when he could help. On Tuesday, Mr McCain planned to meet with small business owners in Des Moines, Iowa, a Midwestern swing state where most polls show him trailing Mr Obama. The Democratic contender was holding a rally in Reno, Nevada - one of several Republican-leaning Western states where Obama is locked in a tight race with McCain.
The vice presidential candidates, Democrat Joe Biden, the veteran Delaware senator, and Republican Alaska Gov Sarah Palin, had no public campaign events scheduled as they prepared for their nationally televised debate on Thursday night. Campaigning in Colorado yesterday, Mr Obama said Mr McCain's long advocacy of deregulation has contributed to the crisis, and letting his Republican rival continue those policies as president would be a gamble the country cannot afford. Mr McCain has "fought against commonsense regulations for decades, he's called for less regulation 20 times just this year, and he said in a recent interview that he thought deregulation has actually helped grow our economy," Mr Obama said. "Senator, what economy are you talking about?" he asked. Voters are consumed with the flailing US economy and Mr McCain and Mr Obama are pounding the issue, portraying themselves as the candidate best prepared to steer the country out of its financial morass. Mr McCain has anointed himself the candidate who can restore financial oversight while slashing wasteful spending and cutting taxes on individuals and businesses.
Mr Obama, Mr McCain says, would usher in an era of big government spending programs and high taxes. But McCain's record as a proponent of deregulation has worked against him and helped Mr Obama, who has sought to tie his opponent to the unpopular Republican administration of President George W Bush. Mr Obama has topped Mr McCain in the polls since the financial crisis took a sudden turn for the worse with the bankruptcy of venerable Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers two weeks ago. The Gallup Poll daily tracking survey on Monday showed Obama with a 50 per cent to 42 per cent lead over Mr McCain. Mr McCain also has been dogged by gaffes, starting with his statement on the day that Lehman went bankrupt that the U.S. economy was fundamentally strong. Last Wednesday, he suspended his campaign and tried to delay his debate with Mr Obama to get involved in the bailout effort. The measure died in the House on Monday with help from McCain's own Republicans as Congress worried about spending such a vast sum of taxpayer money to prop up the failing financial industry. When it came to the financial bailout, McCain sought to turn the tables on his rival. "Sen Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn't want to get involved. Then he was 'monitoring the situation'. That's not leadership, that's watching from the sidelines," he said. Mr Obama called on Congress to stay in Washington and pass a bailout bill, and said he talked with the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders, who were trying to figure out the next step. He called on the stock market to not panic and said he was confident Congress eventually would find a way out of the morass surrounding a bailout, "but it's going to be rocky". *AP