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McCain and Obama duel on economy

DEFIANCE, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama dueled over the economy on Thursday in the last stretch of a fierce fight for the White House, with McCain charging Obama would not do enough to rein in oil company profits.

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain speaks at a campaign rally in Defiance, Ohio October 30, 2008. McCain and Democrat Barack Obama dueled over the economy on Thursday in the last stretch of a fierce fight for the White House, with McCain charging Obama would not do enough to rein in oil company profits. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

McCain jumped on the record quarterly profits posted by Exxon Mobil, noting Obama had supported tax breaks for the oil industry in the 2005 energy bill and “when I’m president, we’re not going to let that happen.”

“Senator Obama voted for billions in corporate giveaways to the oil companies. I voted against it,” McCain told supporters in Defiance, Ohio, as he tried to jump-start a comeback in a race that appears to be tipping toward Obama.

“If I’m elected president, we’re going to stop sending $700 billion a year to pay for oil from countries that don’t like us very much,” McCain said. “We’re going to drill off shore and we’re going to drill now.”

Obama leads McCain in national opinion polls and in key states like Florida and Ohio with five days of campaigning left before Tuesday’s presidential election.

At a rally in Sarasota, Florida, Obama referred to Thursday’s announcement that the U.S. economy had suffered its sharpest contraction in seven years and said the drop in gross domestic product reflected the failed Republican economic policies of McCain and President George W. Bush.

“If you want to know where John McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rear-view mirror,” he said, using the same theme of a new advertisement launched by his campaign.

“Because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has been right next to George W. Bush. He’s been sitting there in the passenger seat ready to take over,” he said.

“The central question in this election is this: what will our next president do to take us in a different direction?”

OBAMA HOLDS LEAD

A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed Obama with a 7-point national lead on McCain, though some other polls show the race tighter. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters he thought the Arizona senator was closing in on Obama in the final days.

“We’re a few points down but we’re coming back,” McCain said in Defiance, and noted that Obama has said he would return to the Senate if he lost and try again for the presidency in 2012.

“That sounds like a great idea to me. Let’s help him make it happen,” McCain said.

But Obama is making a strong push in about a dozen states won by Bush in 2004, and McCain is trailing in every state won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

As in the past two elections, the big battleground states of Ohio and Florida could hold the key to victory -- and polls show Obama with slight leads in both. Obama campaigned in Florida for his second consecutive day in a bid to win the state’s 27 electoral votes -- a victory that could put him over the top in his quest for the White House.

“Don’t believe this election is over. Don’t believe it for a minute,” he said in Sarasota.

In addition to the ad highlighting the links between McCain and Bush, his campaign launched a new advertisement featuring Obama’s endorsements by Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell and legendary investor Warren Buffett.

Obama says in the advertisement that “we can choose hope over fear and unity over division.”

The two new ads follow Obama’s mammoth purchase of 30 minutes of television time across three national networks and several cable networks on Wednesday night for what he billed as an “infomercial” on his campaign.

Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick

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