McCain and Obama resume campaign fight

GREENSBORO, North Carolina Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:43pm EDT

1 of 31. U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain (L) and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama meet at the conclusion of the first U.S. presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, September 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama accused John McCain on Saturday of playing politics with the financial crisis, while his Republican rival tried to show leadership by returning to Washington where lawmakers raced to reach a deal on a financial rescue package.

Fresh from their first presidential debate, where the two White House hopefuls clashed sharply on spending and foreign policy, Obama hit the campaign trail and McCain sped to the capital where some Democrats have expressed fear he might upset delicate bailout negotiations.

In their first joint campaign rally since just after being nominated as the Democratic nominees for president and vice president, Obama and his running mate Joe Biden took turns criticizing McCain, often on the economy and his ties to unpopular President George W. Bush.

They also made digs at him for jumping off the campaign trail on Thursday to join bailout talks, a move some called a political stunt less than six weeks before the November 4 presidential election.

"George Bush has dug us into a deep hole. John McCain was carrying the shovel. It's going to take time to dig ourselves out," Obama said to a rally attended by about 20,000 people.

"You see, I think Senator McCain just doesn't get it -- he doesn't get that this crisis on Wall Street ... hit Main Street long ago," Obama said. "That's why he's been shifting positions these last two weeks, looking for a photo-op, and trying to figure out what to say and what to do," he said.

In Washington, lawmakers were still working on a proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial industry in response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

McCain went straight to Washington from Mississippi after the debate ended late on Friday. But unlike on Thursday, when he headed to Capitol Hill and the White House to take part in highly publicized negotiations, the Arizona senator worked the phones behind the scenes.

"He's calling members on both sides, talking to people in the administration, helping out as he can," McCain aide Mark Salter said.

McCain spoke to Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and congressional leaders, his campaign said.

Obama spoke by phone to Paulson and Democratic lawmakers.

Congressional leaders said they hoped to reach a deal by the end of the weekend so Congress can act Sunday or Monday.

Several have said they were frustrated with Thursday's theatrics when McCain rushed to Capitol Hill and then with Obama attended a White House meeting which ended in acrimony.

"The further presidential politics stays from these negotiations, the better off we'll be and the quicker we can come to a solution," said Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat who chairs the Joint Economic Committee.

McCain, who decided at the last minute to reverse a vow not to attend Friday's debate unless the financial industry rescue was agreed, was also eager to get back to campaigning.

"We hope to have a deal in place so we can get back on the trail," said Salter.

BOTH SIDES CLAIM VICTORY IN DEBATE

In the debate both McCain and Obama were optimistic Congress would agree a rescue plan but said the huge price tag would limit their agendas as the next president.

Public opinion polls have shown Obama gaining over the past week on the question of who could best lead the country on economic issues. Most polls show Obama holding a slight and growing lead over McCain.

Both camps claimed victory after the 90-minute debate.

"I was a little disappointed the media called it a tie but I think that means, when they call it a tie, that means we win," McCain said during a telephone call that was caught by cameras filming him at his campaign headquarters.

McCain and Obama repeatedly questioned each other's judgment during the debate and battled over the economy and the Iraq war. McCain, 72, cast doubt on Obama's readiness for the presidency.

Obama, 47, a first-term Illinois senator, tied McCain to the policies of the unpopular Bush and said both men had been too focused on Iraq while ignoring other problems.

Neither candidate scored any clear blows or committed major gaffes. McCain was on the attack frequently and put Obama on the defensive, but he responded forcefully.

The Obama campaign released a new advertisement called "zero" -- the number of times it said McCain made reference to the middle class during the debate. "McCain doesn't get it. Barack Obama does," the ad's narrator says.

McCain also released an ad criticizing Obama for a 2007 vote against funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The narrator says Obama was "playing politics, risking lives. Not ready to lead."

Nielsen Media, which measures U.S. television viewers, said about one-third of households in its top 55 cities tuned in, but a final viewership number would be determined on Monday.

(additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Donna Smith and John Whitesides; writing by Deborah Charles, editing by Alan Elsner)

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