US rivals trade blows on economy

The candidates for the US presidency have attacked each other’s plans for the struggling American economy as they campaign for votes in key states.

In Florida, Barack Obama launched a fierce counter-attack against his Republican rival, who has accused him of embracing socialist tax policies.

John McCain told US media he was the candidate to listen to on the economy.

He has been speaking in Pennsylvania, while Mr Obama was discussing his rescue plans with state governors.

Mr Obama is to take a two-day break from campaigning later this week to visit his sick grandmother in Hawaii.

Madelyn Dunham, 85, who helped raise Mr Obama, is said to be seriously ill.

BBC North America editor Justin Webb says that despite Mr Obama’s substantial lead over his rival, John McCain, his absence will make his staff nervous.

The Illinois senator has the advantage in the polls with two weeks to go until the 4 November election, but is not sufficiently far ahead to be confident of victory, our correspondent says.

Tight race

Mr Obama accused his Republican rival of making “stuff” up in the last weeks of the campaign.

He denied Republican claims that he had attacked “Joe the plumber” – an Ohio voter who sparked a tax debate.

The student Barack Obama with grandparents, Madelyn Dunham (R) and Stanley Dunham, in New York (undated photo from the Obama campaign)
Senator Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, has always been one of the most important people in his life
Robert Gibbs
Obama aide

Profile: Madelyn Dunham
“I have got nothing but love for Joe the plumber, that’s why I want to give him a tax cut. John McCain is still out there, just saying this stuff, just making it up,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Obama met the governors of Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico and Colorado in Lake Worth, Florida, to discuss jobs and the economy with business leaders and financial experts.

All four states have Democratic governors and all, except Michigan, voted for President George W Bush in 2004.

Before the discussion began, Mr Obama addressed the event’s audience, telling them that Mr McCain would bring America the “same failed policies” as President Bush.

Mr Obama has been mounting an intensive swing through Florida, where opinion polls suggest he and Mr McCain are in a tight race.

He will move on to Virginia and Indiana – two traditionally Republican-leaning states where he is doing well in the polls – on Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Hawaii to visit his grandmother.

‘I’m the candidate’

On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, where Mr Obama has the lead in opinion polls, Mr McCain said his rival’s economic plan would result in raised taxes.

He also questioned his rival’s readiness for the White House.

“We don’t want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars.”

John McCain vows to “get tough” on those who caused the economic crisis

Earlier in the day he said it was “absolutely not true” that the financial crisis was hurting his campaign.

His comments were in response to reports that earlier this month one of his senior advisers said: “If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we’re going to lose.”

“We’re focusing on the economy,” Mr McCain insisted. “Listen to me. I’m the candidate, and this campaign is about the economy,” he said in an interview shown on US network CBS’s The Early Show.

Meanwhile, his running mate Sarah Palin has apologised for any misunderstanding over comments last week on the patriotic values of “the real America” and “pro-America areas of this great nation”.

Mrs Palin denied that was her intention to imply that some parts of the country were more patriotic than others.

“I don’t want that misunderstood. If that’s the way it came across, I apologise,” she told CNN.

Opinion polls suggest voters have more confidence in Mr Obama than Mr McCain to handle the economy.

Mr Obama had been due to campaign in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Ohio on Thursday and Friday – both states that analysts say he appears likely to win.

Instead he will attend a campaign event in Indianapolis on Thursday before taking a flight to Honolulu.

Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Mr Obama’s wife, Michelle, would campaign for her husband in Ohio on Friday. He is expected to resume campaigning on Saturday.

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