Barack Obama warned his supporters not to “get carried away” by his lead over Republican rival John McCain in national polls today.
The Democratic senator said he had been favoured before but ended up “getting spanked” in New Hampshire, where he lost to his former rival, Hillary Clinton, in the state’s primary election.
Less than three weeks before the election, Mr Obama has established a double-digit lead over Mr McCain in a series of recent polls and most political pundits decided he won all three debates between the two presidential candidates, including the final one in New York last night by a clear margin.
“We now have 19 days,” Mr Obama said at a fundraiser in New York this morning.
“We are now 19 days not from the end but from the beginning. The amount of work that is going to be involved for the next president is going to be extraordinary.”
He sounded more optimistic about his White House chances than he has on previous occasions but warned anyone becoming complacent that there were “two words for you: New Hampshire”.
“I’ve been in these positions before where we were favoured and the press starts getting carried away, and we end up getting spanked,” he said.
Later, in New Hampshire, the 47-year-old Illinois senator said his rival does not understand that Americans want to hear about solutions to their economic problems, not political attacks – continuing a theme he used in last night’s debate.
Meanwhile, Mr McCain launched an advert called “Fight” which criticised Mr Obama’s tax plans and economic policy.
The 72-year-old Arizona senator had planned to visit battleground states but was being forced to defend traditionally Republican territory such as Virginia and Colorado, where polls showed Mr Obama leading.
Speaking in Pennsylvania, Mr McCain criticised the Democrat’s tax policy and said “Joe the plumber” won last night’s debate.
Plumber Joe Wurzelbacher confronted Mr Obama on the campaign trail in Ohio on Sunday over his tax policies and the Democrat told him he wanted to “spread the wealth around”.
Mr McCain raised the confrontation during the debate and “Joe the plumber” was referred to frequently by both candidates.
“America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth,” Mr McCain said today.
“We became the greatest nation on earth by creating new wealth.”
Last night he came out fighting in the liveliest and most contentious debate of the race as he sought to get his faltering campaign back on track.
He repeated some of his campaign’s most negative attacks to Mr Obama’s face as he questioned his alleged links to a US terrorist.
Mr McCain, whose stumbling response to the economic crisis has seen him plummet in national polls, also insisted that his presidency would not continue President George Bush’s unpopular policies.
But while Mr Obama retained his calm composure throughout, Mr McCain often looked angry and frustrated.
The Republican said it was time for Mr Obama to explain his relationship with 1960s radical William Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground group.
The Democrat brushed off the attack, saying he was eight years old when Mr Ayers was involved in anti-war activities, including the bombing of federal buildings.
Mr Obama linked Mr McCain to Mr Bush, but – for the first time – the Republican wasted no time as he addressed the issue directly when he hit back.
“Senator Obama, I am not President Bush,” Mr McCain said.
“If you want to run against President Bush you should have run four years ago.”
Mr Obama replied: “If I’ve occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush’s policies, it’s because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people – on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities – you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.
“When it comes to economic policies, essentially what you are proposing are four more years of the same things and it hasn’t worked.
“It’s very clear it hasn’t worked.”
Mr McCain also demanded to know the full extent of his rival’s relationship with Acorn, a liberal anti-poverty group accused of violating federal law as it seeks to register voters.
The Democrat said the problems were nothing to do with his campaign.
The two candidates also outlined their plans for the economy and clashed over abortion, healthcare and education, but a lot of their exchanges focused on the negative attacks of the campaign.
Mr McCain said it had been “tough”, appearing to suggest it was because Mr Obama had not accepted his idea of holding 10 town hall debates, while adding: “I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns.”
Mr Obama said US politicians must learn to “disagree without being disagreeable” and added that he would prefer to talk about the economic crisis engulfing the country on the campaign trail.
Both candidates will be in the same room again tonight, when they meet for the Al Smith dinner in New York, which has surpassed its goal of raising 2.5 million dollars (£1.4 million) for Catholic causes.
Appearing at the dinner – which is held in honour of Al Smith, the former governor of New York who was the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party to run for US president – is a tradition for US presidential nominees.
Although unsuccessful, many historians believe Mr Smith’s presidential bid paved the way for the candidacy of President John F Kennedy.