Wall Street Puts Economy Back On Campaign Radar

The 2008 presidential campaign has shifted focus rapidly all year, often from one political kerfuffle to the next. This week, though, it's back to issue No. 1 for voters: the economy. Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain are on message.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This week, the tumultuous news from Wall Street has driven the presidential campaign squarely back to the issue voters say is most important, the economy. Both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama blame a failed regulatory system for the current situation on Wall Street. They're promising reform.

We're joined now by two correspondents out on the road. NPR's David Greene is with the McCain campaign in Michigan, and Scott Horsley is with the Obama campaign in Nevada. Hello to both of you.

DAVID GREENE: Good to be with you, Michele.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: First to you, Scott. The latest meltdown on Wall Street and the insurance giant AIG, I'm wondering if the government's bailout has worked its way into Obama's message today?

HORSLEY: It definitely has. He opened his remarks here in Elko, Nevada talking about the AIG bailout. In addition to being a battleground state in the November election, Nevada has the dubious distinction of having the nation's highest home foreclosure rate, almost 12,000 homes were foreclosed on here just last month.

And, of course, it's that housing collapse that's at the root of what we're now seeing on Wall Street. The message that Barack Obama has been trying to convey in recent days is that, while the storm is just now raining down on Wall Street, the dark clouds have been gathering across the country for a long time.

NORRIS: It's the message of a new ad the Obama campaign is rolling out this evening. That ad is two minutes long, and that bears repeating, two minutes long. It's all about the economy and Barack Obama's plan to deal with it. Let's take a quick listen.

(Soundbite of Obama campaign ad)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee): For many of you, the people I've met in town halls, backyards, and diners across America, our troubled economy isn't news. 600,000 Americans have lost their jobs since January. Paychecks are flat...

NORRIS: Scott, that's quite a gamble, a two-minute-long ad. Why take that kind of risk?

HORSLEY: Well, and what Barack Obama is trying to say in that ad and in the campaign appearances like those today in Nevada is that this is not an accident. This is not just the invisible hand at work. He lays the blame for this economic slowdown squarely at the doorstep of the Republican administration and an economic philosophy that he says John McCain has shared.

NORRIS: David, I want to bring you into this. John McCain yesterday indicated that he was against a federal bailout for the insurance giant AIG. Today, it sounds like he's supporting this.

GREENE: Yeah. It's the real balance he's trying to find. He's not a fan of government intervention, and he wants to show that he's on the side of American workers. He says that's where the government should be, not bailing out big companies, but he also wants to recognize the reality of what some of these collapses on Wall Street mean and how the government does have to respond, and that's sort of the image he's trying to show.

He's back to his maverick, the reformer. He's been talking a lot about his biography as a Teddy Roosevelt style Republican who believes that capitalism can breed corruption, as he's been quoting Roosevelt, and that he will act when he has to.

NORRIS: John McCain has a new ad out that focuses on the economy. It's a 30-second spot. It starts by saying that worker security has been put at risk by greed on Wall Street. Let's pick it up there.

(Soundbite of John McCain ad)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): My opponent's only solutions are talk and taxes. I'll reform Wall Street and fix Washington. I've taken on tougher guys than this before.

NORRIS: There you hear John McCain talking tough, talking about change, but not talking about a lot of specifics. Are you hearing more specifics on the stump?

GREENE: You know, it's so interesting, the gloomy music in that ad because McCain, when he was at a GM plant in Michigan today, sounded a little more upbeat, standing with workers and saying he feels like they can survive and remain competitive. You know, when McCain has been getting specific, it's been in attacking Barack Obama.

I think he realizes that, you know, the economy is a political weakness for him. He's admitted that, but he doesn't want to let his opponent make hay. He came out with one specific attack today, and McCain said that Obama is talking about delaying his economic plan because of the adverse impact that his tax increases might have on the economy, and McCain said that's an indication that Obama's admitting that his plan could be pretty harmful.

NORRIS: Scott Horsley, you're traveling with the Obama campaign. Is Obama on the defensive on this tax issue?

HORSLEY: Well, no. He points out that his tax plan would actually be a bigger tax break for about 80 percent of Americans. And he's also urging supporters not to buy what he's calling an 11th hour conversion by John McCain who is, at heart, a conservative Republican, who believes in a very limited role for government in the economy. Barack Obama is saying, like President Bush, John McCain ignores problems until they reach a crisis point, and then he's forced to scramble to react instead of trying to head these problems off of at the pass.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the Barack Obama campaign in Elko, Nevada and David Greene with the John McCain campaign in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks to both of you.

GREENE: Thank you, Michele.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Michele.

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