Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has a final chance to turn around his fortunes in the last presidential debate with Barack Obama tonight.
Both candidates released proposals this week designed to boost the economy as financial institutions wobble and voters feel the pinch of a faltering economy.
With the economic crisis fuelling public unease, Mr Obama has built leads nationally and in key states as the turmoil has returned the nation’s focus to the policies of the unpopular President Bush. The burden now is on Mr McCain to try to reverse his slide.
To that end, the Arizona senator took a new approach this week, positioning himself as a fighter for the American middle class and easing off his most direct attacks on Mr Obama, an Illinois senator. Mr McCain also took pains to separate himself from Mr Bush.
“We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change. ... As president I intend to act, quickly and decisively,” Mr McCain said yesterday.
He announced an economic plan calling for halving the tax rate on capital gains and reducing the tax on withdrawals from retirement accounts, among other measures.
A day earlier Mr Obama unveiled a proposal that includes an extension of unemployment benefits, a 90-day freeze on home foreclosures, penalty-free withdrawals from retirement funds and a 3,000 dollar tax credit for each new job.
Both candidates call for doing away with the tax on unemployment benefits.
Mr McCain has suggested that he is likely to bring up Mr Obama’s links to William Ayers, a radical during the Vietnam War era. Mr Ayers was a member of the violent Weather Underground group but later became a university professor in Chicago and an expert on education. He and Mr Obama both worked with some of the same charity foundations in Chicago, and Ayers hosted a reception for Mr Obama when he first ran for the Illinois state Senate.
“We’re always prepared for him to be hyper-aggressive in his attacks,” Mr Obama campaign aide Robert Gibbs said of Mr McCain. “I just think that doesn’t work in an environment where so many people are concerned about the issues in front of them, not scare tactics they don’t see as helping to pay the bills.”
He said Mr Obama will try to project the aura of calm leadership during the debate, which he achieved in two previous debates with Mr McCain.
Mr Obama’s campaign also has taken some shots at Mr McCain, increasingly labelling him “erratic” and “lurching” for solutions to the economic crisis. The words suggest unsteadiness by the four-term senator, who is 72.
Polls conducted after the earlier debates found that more people thought Mr Obama had won both.
Meanwhile, Mr McCain has had trouble finding support among swing voters. A recent Associated Press-GfK Poll showed independents about evenly divided between the two candidates, which is problematic for Mr McCain because registered Democrats decisively outnumber registered Republicans this year.