The third and final American presidential debate produced heated discussion
of the slumping U.S. economy and some testy exchanges about the conduct of the
candidates' two campaigns. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Hofstra University
in New York, which hosted the event between Republican Senator John McCain and
Democratic Senator Barack Obama.
last joint appearance before the November 4 election, senators McCain and Obama
clashed on how best to revive the U.S. economy and spare Americans from pain and
dislocation stemming from the continuing financial crisis.
McCain took a
strong stand against any new federal taxes and said Obama's plan to raise taxes
for high-income earners would harm small businesses and ordinary Americans.
"Why would you want to increase anybody's taxes right now? Why would you
want to do that [to] anyone, anyone in America, when we have such a tough time,
when these small business people, like Joe the plumber, are going to create
jobs, unless you take that money from him and spread the wealth around,” said
Obama stressed he wants to cut taxes for
middle-income Americans and said McCain represents a continuation of President
Bush's economic policies.
"On the core economic issues that matter to
the American people - on tax policy, on energy, on spending priorities - you
have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush,” said Barack Obama.
“Essentially what you are proposing is eight more years of the same thing, and
it hasn't worked, and I think the American people understand it hasn't worked
and we need to move in a new direction."
Unlike previous debate
encounters where McCain and Obama spoke from podiums or took turns standing in
front of a town hall audience, this debate had the two men seated close to each
other at a single table. The proximity was intended to foster direct,
spontaneous exchanges between the candidates, and to make it harder for either
to give a series of pre-rehearsed mini-speeches.
The formula seemed to
McCain, who repeatedly went on the
offensive to challenge Obama's positions and statements, pressed his rival on
his connection to a 1960's radical, William Ayers. He also mentioned Obama's
ties to a civic organization, Acorn, that has been accused of voter registration
"Mr. Ayers - I do not care about an old, washed-up terrorist, but
as Senator [Hillary] Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the
full extent of that relationship,” he said. “We need to know the full extent of
Senator Obama's relationship with Acorn, which is now on the verge of maybe
perpetrating the greatest fraud in voter history."
Obama, who seemed
determined to project calm and an even temper, took the opportunity to speak on
the Ayers matter, which has been the focus of much media attention in recent
years ago, when I was eight years old, he [Ayers] engaged in despicable acts
with a radical domestic group,” he said. “I have roundly condemned those acts.
Ten years ago, he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded
by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends. Mr. Ayers is not
involved in my campaign."
The wide-ranging debate also explored health
care reform, trade policy, the negative tone of political advertising, judicial
nominations, abortion and education.
During the debate, both campaigns
issued statements rebutting their opponent's arguments. Both campaigns claimed
victory moments after the event ended. Post-debate polls will explore the
American public's verdict on the debate, in coming days.