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McCain and Obama clash in TV debate



McCain and Obama on their top priorities

Voters have questioned the US presidential hopefuls in a town hall-style debate dominated by the financial crisis and foreign policy.

Two polls taken right after the debate - by CBS News and CNN - judged Barack Obama the winner over John McCain.

Senator Obama said more must be done to help the middle classes and that his rival's tax cuts would aid the rich.

Mr McCain presented a plan for the US Treasury to help mortgage-holders and said Mr Obama wanted to raise taxes.

CNN's poll of debate-watchers found 54% said Mr Obama had done the best job, compared with 30% for Mr McCain.

CBS's poll of undecided voters suggested 29% thought Mr Obama the winner, with 27% for Mr McCain and 35% calling it a draw.

The debate took place as Mr Obama appeared to be developing a substantial lead in the opinion polls with just one month to go before the election takes place.

The latest Gallup daily tracking poll puts Mr Obama at 50% and Mr McCain at 42%, while a new CNN poll put Mr Obama ahead by 53% to 45%.

And polls in the key swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Colorado which are needed to win the election have also swung against Mr McCain.

Tensions

Although both candidates sought to appear at ease on the stage in Nashville, Tennessee, greeting each other with a smile and handshake, some signs of the tensions between them emerged.

Giving a hint of the rancour between them, Mr McCain at one point referred to Mr Obama as "that one", rather than by name, while discussing a vote on an energy bill.

No disasters for either candidate but Obama edges it - I cannot see how the McCain performance enthuses the middle ground

However, despite days of increasingly personal attacks leading up to the debate, the second of three, there were no real fireworks.

Senator McCain's proposal that the government buy up $300bn (171bn) of bad debt to help people stay in their homes goes some way beyond what has been offered by the recent $700bn bail-out plan agreed by Congress - although it is similar to a housing rescue package agreed by Congress in July.

The Republican candidate said: "Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we stabilise home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy."

He accused the Democratic candidate of being a liberal on spending, adding: "Nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall."

Mr Obama countered that the current crisis was the "final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years", pursued by President George W Bush and backed by Mr McCain.

Washington would have to change to prioritise the interests of ordinary Americans and ensure they were able to remain in their homes, he said.

'Wrong on Iraq'

The town hall-style debate, taking place less than a month before the 4 November election, generated intense interest among the public.

The moderator, NBC news presenter Tom Brokaw, picked from questions e-mailed in by more than 6 million members of the public and put forward by a studio audience of about 80 uncommitted voters.

This is a guy who sang 'bomb, bomb, bomb Iran', who called for the annihilation of North Korea
Barack Obama

Asked whether the economic crisis would affect the ability of the US to act as a "peacemaker" in the world, Mr Obama said no country could maintain the same military influence while its economy was in decline.

He said the foreign policy approach of the Bush administration, supported by Mr McCain, had made it harder for the US to address overseas conflicts like Darfur because it had lost the support of allies.

The Illinois senator also said the US had made a bad decision going into Iraq when al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden remained at large.

Mr McCain said Mr Obama had been wrong to oppose the "surge" policy of sending extra troops to Iraq and accused him of lacking the knowledge and judgement to be commander-in-chief.

On Russia, Mr McCain argued that Mr Obama had been "wrong about Russia when it committed aggression against Georgia".

He also accused Mr Obama of having foolishly said he would carry out a cross-border raid from Afghanistan into Pakistan in pursuit of the Taleban.

Barack Obama on the invasion of Iraq

Quoting former US President Theodore Roosevelt, Mr McCain said the commander-in-chief should "talk softly, but carry a big stick".

However, Mr Obama challenged Mr McCain's claim to exercise sound judgement on foreign policy issues.

"This is a guy who sang 'bomb, bomb, bomb Iran', who called for the annihilation of North Korea - that I don't think is an example of speaking softly," Mr Obama said.

He said the US would never take the military option off the table in dealing with Iran and its nuclear programme, but that Washington must use all the tools at its disposal, including economic sanctions.

It was important for the US to hold direct talks with Iran to deliver a "tough message" that it must change its ways or "face the consequences", he added.

Asked about environmental issues, Mr McCain spoke of having disagreed strongly with the Bush administration over the need to act on global warming and gave his backing to nuclear power.

Mr Obama said investment in developing alternative sources of energy was a matter of national security as well as an environmental priority.

Character assaults

In recent days both camps have launched fresh assaults on the character of their opponent.

The McCain team has focused on Mr Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, who belonged to a US militant group that opposed the Vietnam War.

The Obama team has highlighted Mr McCain's connections to Arizona tycoon Charles Keating, who was convicted of securities fraud 20 years ago.


Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.

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