WASHINGTON/GREENSBORO, North Carolina (Reuters) - White House hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain accused each other of playing politics with the financial crisis on Saturday, stepping up their attacks one day after their first presidential debate ended in a virtual tie.
After a high-pressure encounter in Mississippi, where the two candidates clashed sharply on spending and foreign policy, Obama hit the campaign trail and McCain returned to Washington to work on a rescue package for the financial sector.
McCain, an Arizona senator who some Democrats feared would upset delicate negotiations, spent most of the day working the phones from his campaign office rather than joining talks on Capitol Hill.
In remarks delivered by satellite to a group of hunters and fishermen in Ohio, McCain said the debate illustrated his differences with Obama over Wall Street’s problems.
“It was clear that Senator Obama still sees the financial crisis in America as a national problem to be exploited first and solved later,” he said.
“This is a moment of great testing, when the future of our economy is on the line, and I am determined to help achieve a legislative package to help avoid the worst.”
Obama, an Illinois senator, and his running mate Joe Biden, meanwhile, took turns criticizing McCain on the economy and his ties to unpopular President George W. Bush at a rally in North Carolina.
They also made digs at McCain 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.”
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 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 on Sunday or Monday.
Several have said they were frustrated with Thursday’s theatrics when McCain rushed to Capitol Hill and attended a White House meeting with Obama that 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.
In the debate both McCain and Obama were optimistic Congress would agree to 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 during which McCain, 72, and Obama, 47, repeatedly questioned each other’s judgment.
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.
Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe said the exchange showed the Illinois senator had more than passed the “commander in chief” test.
“We think last night we not only passed it, we flew by it,” he told reporters on a conference call.
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 lashed out at Obama for not talking about victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“I noticed during our debate that even as American troops are fighting on two fronts, Barack Obama couldn’t bring himself to use the word ”victory“ even once,” McCain in his remarks to the sportsmen group.
His campaign 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 Donna Smith and John Whitesides; writing by Deborah Charles and Jeff Mason, editing by Vicki Allen