DEFIANCE, Ohio — John McCain and Barack Obama seized on Thursday's latest economic reports to attack each other, with McCain calling Obama a shill for Big Oil and Obama calling his rival a clone of President Bush.
With five days left before the election, McCain began a two-day bus tour of Ohio, a battleground state that Bush won twice but where the Arizona senator finds himself trailing in most polls.
McCain took note of the record earnings announced Thursday by Exxon Mobil and told a crowd outside the Defiance high school that Obama "voted for billions in corporate giveaways to the oil companies. I voted against it."
McCain was referring to Obama's vote for the 2005 energy bill, but his assertion that the Illinois senator backed billions in corporate giveaways for oil companies has been called misleading by fact-checking organizations.
The bill included $2.6 billion in tax cuts for the oil and gas industries along with $2.9 billion in tax increases on those industries, a net increase of nearly $300 million over 11 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
While McCain crisscrossed the Buckeye State by bus, Obama had campaign stops in Florida, Virginia and Missouri, all states that Bush won in 2004 and polls find within Obama's reach.
At a morning event in Sarasota, Fla., Obama told the audience the news that the economy declined in the third quarter.
"That means we're producing less and selling less, so our economy is actually shrinking," he said.
Obama said that McCain would continue Bush's economic policies. Echoing the imagery of a new TV ad he'd released, he said, "If you want to know where Senator McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rearview mirror. ...
"After nine straight months of job losses and the largest drop in home values on record, with wages lower than they've been in a decade, why would we keep on driving down this dead-end street?"
In the 30-second ad, a man who's driving a car tries to adjust its mirrors only to see Bush's face repeatedly in the rear and side mirrors; eventually McCain's and Bush's faces morph together. "Look behind you; we can't afford more of the same," the announcer says.
McCain had hoped to make a splash in Defiance with a living commercial: his first joint campaign appearance with Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber."
Wurzelbacher's encounter with Obama, in which the candidate tried to explain his tax plan to the Ohio resident, has become the centerpiece of McCain's stump speech and the major theme of his campaign in the closing days: that Obama would raise taxes on small businesses, hurting jobs and the economy. In fact, Obama would raise taxes only on individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year and families that earn more than $250,000.
When McCain introduced Wurzelbacher, however, there was no Joe.
"Joe, where are you? Is Joe here with us today?" McCain said. "Joe, I thought you were here today. All right, well, you're all Joe the Plumber. . . . Wherever you are, Joe, let's give him a round of applause."
Wurzelbacher showed at McCain's second event, standing beside the Republican candidate under a giant gazebo in downtown Sandusky, Ohio. He urged those in the crowd, estimated at 8,000, to do their homework before voting.
"All right guys, I didn't prepare anything; the only thing I've been saying is just get out and get informed," he said. "Don't take everyone's opinions. I came to my own opinions by research. Get involved in the government. That way we can hold our politicians accountable and take back our government. It's all ours."
Meanwhile, McCain's campaign critiqued Obama's 30-minute TV infomercial Wednesday night as a gimmick that smacked of hubris.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's traveling with McCain, told the Defiance crowd that if they showed the program to prisoners, it probably would violate the Geneva Convention prohibition against torture.
Obama's program was watched by 21.7 percent of households, according to Nielsen ratings. That's less than the 38.3 percent household rating for this year's final presidential debate, but more than the 16.8 percent that candidate Ross Perot drew for his paid programming in 1996, the last time such programming time was purchased.
McCain took note of another Obama TV appearance, an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson. McCain said that Obama had said that if he lost Tuesday's election, he'd return to the Senate and "try again in four years with a second act."
"That sounds like a great idea to me. Let's help him make it happen," McCain said.
However, Obama made no mention in the interview of running for president again if he lost.
He told Gibson: "You know, they say there are no second acts in politics, but, you know, I think there are enough exceptions out there that I could envision returning to the Senate and just doing some terrific work with the next president and the next Congress."
On another front, the American Conservative Union made a formal request for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Obama's 2005 Chicago home purchase. That deal involved the simultaneous purchase of adjacent land by the wife of a local developer and Obama supporter who later was convicted on unrelated corruption changes. Obama aides dismissed the request for an investigation as a political stunt.
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