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After debate, Obama calls McCain out of touch

ASSOCIATED PRESS | 10/1/2008, 4:47 a.m.
Republican presidential candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain (left) and his Democratic opponent, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, face off...
Republican presidential candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain (left) and his Democratic opponent, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, face off at last Friday’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. AP /Rogelio Solis

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Republican presidential candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain (left) and his Democratic opponent, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, face off at last Friday’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama called Republican rival John McCain out of touch with middle-class Americans a day after they clashed in their first presidential debate over who could best lead the U.S. out of its financial crisis while waging wars on two fronts.

Both presidential contenders turned their attention last Saturday to negotiations in Washington to broker a deal to bail out failing financial firms.

McCain placed phone calls to President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Republican congressional leaders to help steer a bailout deal. Obama also found time to speak by phone to Paulson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Barney Frank about the congressional negotiations.

The House of Representatives rejected the $700 billion proposal to stabilize U.S. markets on Monday.

In their first 90-minute televised debate, the two candidates sparred over foreign policy and the economy.

Neither candidate decisively won last Friday’s debate at the University of Mississippi, nor committed any game-changing gaffe. But that did not prevent each campaign from proclaiming victory and spending much of Saturday trying to shape the perception of the debate in the days going forward.

Obama’s campaign quickly produced an advertisement criticizing McCain for never uttering the term “middle class” in the debate. Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, held a conference call with reporters where he called McCain’s efforts to paint Obama as inexperienced on foreign affairs “sophomoric.”

McCain harshly criticized Obama’s debate performance last Saturday in a speech to the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It wasn’t such a good night for my opponent,” McCain said, saying among other things that Obama was trying to use the looming market meltdown for political gain.

“It was clear that Senator Obama still sees the financial crisis in America as a national problem to be exploited first and solved later,” McCain said.

McCain’s campaign readied a spot on a topic that came up in the debate: Obama’s vote in 2007 against funding troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ad uses the words of Obama’s running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, against him, saying the Illinois senator had been trying to make a “political point” with the vote.

When McCain cited that vote during the debate, Obama defended it as being aimed at the lack of a withdrawal timetable, not at funding for troops.

Biden will debate Republican vice presidential contender and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tonight at Washington University in St. Louis.

McCain flew back to Washington from Mississippi after the debate to resume work on the bailout, arriving shortly before dawn. He canceled campaign events in Ohio through the weekend.

Earlier in the week, McCain jolted the political world when he announced he would forgo most campaign activities to work on the bailout deal. He hinted he might not participate in the debate with Obama if a deal were not reached, but he changed his mind and flew to Mississippi within hours of the event.

While the Arizona senator has repeatedly insisted the dire financial crisis was a time for leadership and not politics, last Friday’s debate — and its potential impact on the presidential campaign going forward — was clearly on his mind.