CANTON, Ohio — John McCain and Barack Obama sparred Monday over who'll rescue the nation from economic calamity, and they shaped their closing arguments in two of the biggest battleground states — Ohio and Pennsylvania — as the presidential contest entered its final week.
"With one week left in this campaign, the choice facing Americans is stark," McCain said in Cleveland after meeting with economic advisers. "Our plan will create jobs. His plan to raise taxes . . . will cut jobs. It's a difference of millions of jobs . . . and Americans are beginning to figure that out."
Obama, speaking in Canton, said he wouldn't raise taxes on any family that earns less than $250,000 a year and that providing tax relief for the middle class would help restore the economy.
"The question in this election is not `Are you better off than you were four years ago?' We know the answer to that," Obama said. "The real question is, `Will this country be better off four years from now?'
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"We are one week away from changing America."
Those remarks capture the economic philosophies that divide Obama and Democrats from McCain and Republicans.
McCain, like every Republican presidential candidate before him since at least Ronald Reagan, posits that tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy and business are the best way to achieve economic growth.
Obama, like most Democrats, decries that approach as "trickle-down economics" that benefits the wealthy disproportionately while shortchanging everyone else. He calls instead for tax relief for the broadly defined middle class in the belief that spreading the gains will boost consumer-driven economic growth.
McCain said that he and Obama "disagree with President Bush on economic policy."
Obama rejected that contention. He lauded the Arizona senator for breaking with Bush on some issues, such as opposing the torture of prisoners, but said that "after 21 months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. Not one thing."
To come from behind, McCain needs to win Ohio, the final state that gave Bush the election in 2004, and Pennsylvania, but he lags behind Obama in polls in both states.
Obama is taking nothing for granted, though, as his weak showing among white, working-class voters contributed to his loss against Hillary Clinton in the primaries in both states this year.
In Pennsylvania, Obama leads McCain by an average of more than 11 points, according to realclearpolitics.com. Even so, the Illinois senator was returning to the state for a rally Monday night in Pittsburgh and a planned appearance Tuesday morning outside Philadelphia.
He held an average 6 percentage-point lead over McCain in Ohio, according to realclearpolitics.com.
A key factor is the economy in the industrial state, which has lost nearly 250,000 factory jobs this decade and where the unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, down from 7.4 percent the month before but still higher than the national average of 6.1 percent.
McCain vowed to help protect retirement accounts from recent market turmoil by suspending rules that require retirees to sell stocks now, to help struggling homeowners by having the government buy bad mortgages, to lift stock prices by cutting the capital gains tax and to keep taxes low across the board by making the temporary Bush tax cuts permanent.
"I will create millions of high-paying jobs through tax cuts that spur economic growth," he said in a Cleveland hotel meeting room, "particularly for the small businesses which create 70 percent of all new jobs in this country."
Obama told voters in Canton that they have the chance to change the country's economic course by electing him.
"In one week, you can turn the page on policies that have put the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street," he said.
In Kettering, McCain jumped on the news of a seven-year-old interview with a Chicago radio station in which Obama expressed regret that the civil rights movement had been so focused on winning legal rights through the courts that it failed to develop coalitions that could achieve more fundamental changes of political and economic justice, including the redistribution of wealth.
"It is amazing that even at this late hour, we are still learning more about Senator Obama and his agenda," McCain told a lightly attended rally, where about 1,000 supporters cheered but dozens of seats were empty.
"In a radio interview revealed today, he said that one of the quote `tragedies' of the civil rights movement is that it didn't bring about a redistribution of wealth in our society. . . . That is what change means for the Obama administration, the redistributor: It means taking your money and giving it to someone else."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton responded: "In this seven-year-old interview, Senator Obama did not say that the courts should get into the business of redistributing wealth at all," which wasn't what McCain charged. "Americans know that the real choice in this election is between four more years of Bush-McCain policies that redistribute billions to billionaires and big corporations and Barack Obama's plan to help the middle class by giving tax relief to 95 percent of workers and companies that create new jobs here in America."
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