Obama and McCain Senator John McCain used the final debate of the presidential election on Wednesday night to raise persistent and pointed questions about Senator Barack Obama's character, judgment and policy prescriptions in a session that was by far the most spirited and combative of their encounters this fall.
At times showing anger and at others a methodical determination to make all his points, Mr. McCain pressed his Democratic rival on taxes, spending, the tone of the campaign and his association with the former Weather Underground leader William Ayers, using nearly every argument at his disposal in an effort to alter the course of a contest that has increasingly gone Mr. Obama's way.
But Mr. Obama maintained a placid and at times bemused demeanor — if at times appearing to work at it — as he parried the attacks and pressed his consistent line that Mr. McCain would represent a continuation of President Bush's unpopular policies, especially on the economy.
That set the backdrop for one of the sharpest exchanges of the evening, when, in response to Mr. Obama's statement that Mr. McCain had repeatedly supported Mr. Bush's economic policies, Mr. McCain fairly leaped out of his chair to say: “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.”
Acknowledging Mr. McCain had his differences with Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama replied, “The fact of the matter is that if I occasionally mistake your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people — on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities — you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush.”
The debate touched on a wide variety of issues, including abortion, judicial appointments, trade and climate change as well as the economy, with the candidates often making clear the deep differences between them.
But it also put on display the two very different temperaments of the candidates with less than three weeks until Election Day. The lasting image of the night could be the split screen of Mr. Obama, doing his best to maintain his unflappable demeanor under a sometimes withering attack, and Mr. McCain looking coiled, occasionally breathing deeply, apparently in an expression of impatience.
Sitting side by side with only the host, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, between them on the stage at Hofstra University, Mr. McCain made clear from the start that he was going to follow the prescriptions of many of his supporters — among them his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska — and try to put Mr. Obama on the defensive and shake him from his steady debate style. Seizing on an encounter in Ohio this week with a voter — Joe Wurzelbacher, a plumber — who told Mr. Obama that he feared that his tax policies would punish him as a small-business owner, Mr. McCain pressed his attack on Mr. Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal. Mr. Obama's plan would raise taxes on filers earning more than $250,000 a year, a category that includes some small businesses, but would cut taxes on households earning less than $200,000 a year.