CINCINNATI — Democrat Barack Obama on Thursday slammed Republican John McCain's new mortgage rescue plan in a television ad and on the stump in Ohio, calling it a "risky idea" that would take advantage of taxpayers, adding that it's an example of his opponent's "erratic behavior."
If McCain hopes his uncharacteristically big-government proposal will hold populist appeal for millions of struggling homeowners in the closing weeks of the campaign, Obama is betting that he can turn that strategy upside down by presenting it as evidence that McCain, a longtime advocate of deregulation, is more interested in helping the lending industry than homeowners.
Noting the Dow's drop Thursday below 9,000, Obama told a crowd at a park in Cincinnati that if they used to have a 401(k) retirement savings account, "You’ve got a 101(k) now," and the next president will have to deal with the fallout.
"Will that president be looking out for you?" he asked.
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Later, after the stock market's latest plunge, Obama issued a statement calling on the Treasury to implement the $700 billion financial rescue package as quickly as possible.
"While we face a very serious challenge, now is not the time for fear or panic, but for all of us to come together with resolve and determination that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis and restore confidence in the American economy," Obama's statement said.
McCain, campaigning in Wisconsin, defended his mortgage plan. He also continued to argue that voters should be afraid of Obama because he previously was involved in two mainstream charitable organizations with, and in the 1990s attended a candidate event at the home of, a Chicago professor who in the 1960s had been an activist in a violent Vietnam-era protest group.
Outspent by Obama on TV ads, McCain launched a new Web ad about his opponent’s connections to Bill Ayers, the Chicago professor, in which the announcer describes Ayers as a "domestic terrorist" and concludes, "Barack Obama: Too risky for America."
McCain told the Wisconsin crowd, "Look, we don't care about a washed-up terrorist and his wife who still, after Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. But that's not the point here. The point is Sen. Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We know that's not true, we need to know the full extent of the relationship, because of whether Sen. Obama is telling the truth to the American people or not."
Obama has condemned the violent 1960s activities of the Weather Underground. There is no evidence that Ayers is a close friend or an adviser to his campaign.
Later, Obama's campaign issued a statement in reaction to McCain's attacks.
"It's now clear that John McCain would rather launch angry, personal attacks than talk about the economy or defend his risky bailout scheme that hands over billions in taxpayer dollars to the same irresponsible Wall Street banks and lenders that got us into this mess — a scheme that guarantees taxpayers will lose money," said Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Several McCain supporters at a town-hall meeting he attended with running mate Sarah Palin in Waukesha, Wis., vented their anger toward Obama.
"It’s not the economy," one elderly man told McCain and Palin. "It’s the socialists takin' over our country ... It's time that you two are representing us, and we are mad."
One unidentified middle-aged man told McCain, "We're all wondering why Obama is where's he’s at, how he got there, I mean everybody in this is stunned that we're in this position. We're all products of our association. Is there not a way to get around this media and line up?"
Addressing a crowd in Dayton, Obama urged voters to see McCain's character attacks on him in the context of McCain being a candidate who's worried that he's going to lose.
"Is this going to be a time when we turn on each other, call each other names, or accuse each other of being unpatriotic?" he said. "Or will they say this was one of those moments when America overcame?
"Believe in yourselves," Obama told supporters. "Now it falls to us."
Obama said that the mortgage proposal McCain raised during their televised national debate on Tuesday initially appeared to involve banks selling bad mortgages to the federal government at a discount to help homeowners, and that this was something Obama and other lawmakers of both parties also supported.
However, Obama said, the details McCain fleshed out Wednesday suggested that, "he'd changed his mind and was proposing to bail out banks and lenders with taxpayer money."
"Banks wouldn’t take a loss, but taxpayers would take a loss," Obama said. Obama called it "just the latest in a series of shifting positions" by McCain. "This is the kind of erratic behavior we've been seeing out of Sen. McCain. I don't think we can afford that kind of erratic and uncertain leadership in these uncertain times."
Aaron and Julie Render, Obama supporters who attended the Dayton rally, said they didn't really understand McCain's proposal before, but that they trusted Obama's criticism of it.
"Obama’s the one who told us what was going on," said Aaron Render. "He explained it in simple words." The Renders, both in their 50s, said they'd both lost their jobs in the bad economy and have had to move into Julie's mother's house.
Several Ohio cities are struggling with high foreclosure rates. If undecided voters are as swayed by Obama's arguments as the Renders, it could spell trouble for McCain.
(Talev reported from Ohio. Douglas reported from Wisconsin.)
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