Michelle Obama steps into economic debate

Americans want “real answers” on the economic crisis and “don’t care about the back and forth between the candidates”, Barack Obama’s wife said today.

Michelle Obama said there were “two conversations” going on in the United States ahead of November’s presidential election.

“There’s the conversation that’s been happening with the pundits... and then there’s the conversation that’s been happening on the ground,” she told CNN’s Larry King Live.

Mrs Obama, a Harvard Law-educated hospital executive and mother-of-two, often humanises her husband on the campaign trail and said she ignored his rival John McCain’s attacks.

She said Americans were more concerned about the financial crisis that was engulfing the country.

Americans “right now are scared” and “nervous about the economy”, she said.

“They don’t care about the back and forth between the candidates; they want real answers about how we’re going to fix this economy and get the health care benefits on track so, you know, this is part of politics.”

With less than four weeks to go until the election, Mr Obama leads in virtually all the battleground states and has more than a five point lead nationally in the latest average of polls by RealClearPolitics.com.

Mr McCain’s poll numbers plummeted as his campaign stumbled in its handling of the US economic crisis in recent weeks.

The race took an aggressively negative turn over the weekend when Mr McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin claimed the Democrat was “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country”.

The attack referred to Mr Obama’s ties to William Ayers, a founding member of the Weather Underground, a 1960s radical group known for bombings of police stations, the Pentagon and the US Capitol.

Asked about the comments, Mrs Obama said her husband served on a Chicago education board with Ayers.

“I don’t know anyone in Chicago who is heavily in education policy who doesn’t know Bill Ayers,” she said.

“But, you know, again I go back to the point that, you know, the American people aren’t asking these questions.”

Asked if she thought it affected the campaign, Mrs Obama, 44, said: “You know, I think that we’ve been in this for 20 months and people have gotten to know Barack. He’s written a book, books have been written about him.

“He, like all of the other candidates have been thoroughly vetted. And I think people know Barack Obama.

“They know his heart, they know his spirit, and the thing that I just encourage people is to judge Barack and judge all of these candidates based on what they do, their actions, their character, what they do in their lives - rather than what somebody did when they were eight.”

She was referring to the fact that Ayers allegedly committed his most radical acts when her husband was a child.

Mrs Obama also praised her husband’s former rival Hillary Clinton, who is now campaigning for him, as “a real pro and a woman with character”.

Yesterday, Mr Obama said he can stand four more weeks of Mr McCain’s attacks but America can not stand four more years of President George Bush’s failed policies.

The 47-year-old Illinois senator linked his Republican rival to the unpopular president as he returned to the campaign trail in the battleground state of Indiana after performing well in the second presidential debate on Tuesday night.

The McCain campaign has said it intends to “turn a page on this financial crisis” and divert attention from Mr McCain’s stumbling response which has damaged his presidential bid by “discussing Mr Obama’s aggressively liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans”.

Speaking in Indianapolis, Indiana, Mr Obama said: “I can take four more weeks of John McCain’s attacks but the American people can’t take four more years of John McCain’s Bush policies.”

He also criticised his rival’s healthcare policy, which he said would give with one hand and take away with the other.

“I’ve got news for John McCain,” he said. “We notice, we know better. We’re not going to be hoodwinked. We’re not going to be bamboozled. We’re not going to let him get away with it.”

Mr Obama also said “No, no, no,” and added “I’m superstitious” when the crowd chanted “when” as he said: “If I’m president...”.

An hour later, at a rally in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Mr McCain – who used “when” not “if” – continued his attacks and said Mr Obama was “misleading” on healthcare and an “eager participant” in the “corrupt system” of earmarks, congressional provisions that direct approved funds to be spent on specific projects.

To chants of “No Obama, no Obama” the 72-year-old Arizona senator went on: “What Senator Obama says today, and what he has done in the past, are very often two different things.

“Rather than answer his critics, Senator Obama will try to distract you from noticing that he never answers the serious and legitimate questions he’s been asked.

“He’s even questioned my truthfulness and let me reply in the plainest terms I know. I don’t need lessons about telling the truth to the American people. And were I ever to need any improvement in that regard, I probably wouldn’t seek advice from a Chicago politician.”

Politics in the Windy City has been known for its links to organised crime and for its machine politics with behind-the-scenes control.

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