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Originally published Monday, September 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Candidates offer glimpse of tactics as debate nears

Gearing up for their first presidential debate, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama traded fresh jabs Sunday but offered no...

Los Angeles Times

BALTIMORE — Gearing up for their first presidential debate, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama traded fresh jabs Sunday but offered no new policy prescriptions to lead the nation out of its economic morass.

In his only public appearance, McCain devoted just three sentences to the unfolding Wall Street debacle. He instead pivoted off the fiasco to slam Obama's positions on Iraq and portray him as a weak leader overall.

McCain thus previewed part of the strategy he probably will employ when the candidates face off Friday to discuss foreign policy in Oxford, Miss., in the first of three scheduled debates.

Speaking in Charlotte, N.C., Obama focused almost entirely on the financial crisis and repeatedly charged that McCain has embraced a failed economic philosophy for his 26 years in Congress.

"And yet Senator McCain, who candidly admitted not long ago that he doesn't know as much about economics as he should, wants to keep going down the same disastrous path," Obama said.

Both candidates have grown far more assertive in recent days in accusing the other of misguided economic policies, while both have moved more cautiously in suggesting remedies to the fast-moving crisis.

Speaking to a National Guard Association convention in Baltimore, McCain said that he planned "comprehensive reform of the broken institutions" on Wall Street and vowed to help "keep people in their homes and safeguard the life savings of all Americans." He provided no details.

McCain has recast his economic message repeatedly over the past week. After initially declaring that the fundamentals of the economy were "strong," he belatedly conceded that a crisis had begun. He also stopped touting his long-standing opposition to regulation of the financial industry and began calling for increased government oversight of banking and credit markets.

McCain said, however, that Obama "has declined to put forth a plan of his own. At a time of crisis, when leadership is needed, Senator Obama has not provided it."

In an e-mail, Hari Sevugan, an Obama spokesman, called McCain's charge "an especially absurd claim, given that Senator McCain's so-called plan consists of zero details and 10 sentences that reflect the outlines of a proposal first offered" by Obama's campaign a week ago.

Obama first proposed a series of economic reforms last year, including a call to strengthen regulatory oversight and enforcement on Wall Street.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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