October 15, 2008
Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama spent their final debate before the election locked in a tug-of-war for one critical supporter: Joe the plumber.
Obama and McCain sparred on whose domestic policies would truly help working class Americans such as the plumber Obama talked with in Ohio, who owned a small business and worried about Obama’s taxes. Obama had responded that he wanted to “spread the wealth.”
"Why would you want to increase anybody's taxes right now?” McCain said. “Why would you want to do that to anyone, anyone in America, when we have such a tough time?"
Obama countered that his tax plan still helps 95 percent of working Americans, saying that McCain’s plan would only go to already wealthy corporations.
"What we haven't yet seen is a rescue package for the middle class because the fundamentals of the economy were weak even before this latest crisis," the Democratic nominee said.
The trailing Republican nominee also made one more attempt to distance himself from President Bush’s economic policies, to which Obama’s campaign has consistently linked him.
"Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run again President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain responded.
The candidates repeated their talking points on healthcare and the economy. McCain also stuck by his promise of a spending freeze for most government programs and a bailout for struggling home owners.
The candidates also outlined their education proposals, agreeing on vouchers and teacher rewards but little else. McCain accused Obama of throwing more money at the current system instead of encouraging competition with charter schools. Obama responded that vouchers alone could not salvage a lagging educational standard, and called for greater assistance in college tuition costs.
Moderator Bob Schieffer extracted definitive comments on Roe v. Wade from the candidates, with Obama voicing support for the decision and McCain explicitly saying it should be overturned. McCain promised to look at a judicial candidate’s qualifications, and not use the case as a “litmus test” for nominees, and Obama acknowledged that the most important qualification was the ability to distribute "fairness and justice to the American people."
The Republican candidate provided clear insight into his pro-life stances, saying, "I thought [Roe v. Wade] was a bad decisions. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states."
"I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench," McCain continued. "I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test."
Obama sharply contrasted McCain's answer, focusing not on Constitutional adherence but whether a judge has "a sense of what real-world folks are going through."
"But I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided," Obama said. "...what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position ot make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn't be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote."
McCain also hammered Obama for his vote against the Illinois’ Born Alive Act, which mandated immediate medical care for infants who survived an abortion. Obama noted that the bill lacked caveats and that such a law already existed, arguing the need to help single mothers and domestic adoptions as ways to reduce the number of abortions procedures.
The debate became even more personal and heated when Schieffer asked the candidates about their negative campaign ads. Neither backed down, and neither promised “cleaner” ads in their campaigns’ last weeks.
McCain also pushed Obama to clarify his relationship with ACORN, a community organization now accused of voter registration fraud, and with Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical who planned several domestic terrorism acts with the Weather Underground group.
"Mr. Ayers is not involved in this campaign, he has never been involved in my campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House," Obama said. He also denied close associations with ACORN.
The debate was McCain’s last opportunity to personally regain points among voters, as the polls have shifted in Obama’s favor since the bailout packages appeared. A CBS/New York Times poll shows Obama with a 14-point lead over McCain nationally, and holding an edge in once-Republican territory such as Virginia and North Carolina.