McCain: Obama Leaves Unanswered Questions

The Democrat and Republican presidential hopefuls debate Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. On Monday, Republican John McCain campaigned in New Mexico, arguing that Barack Obama is inexperienced and raising questions about Obama's past relationships.

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ARI SHAPIRO, Host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning. Here's what the presidential candidates will know when they shake hands at tonight's debate. Barack Obama will know that John McCain just denounced him and that McCain's running mate claims Obama was, quote, "palling around with terrorists." John McCain will know that Obama's campaign ads call him, quote "erratic," one of many apparent references to the Republican's age. Knowing that about each other, they will smile and share a stage tonight. They'll take questions from voters in Nashville. We have two reports on the debate preliminaries, starting with NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain is trailing in national polls, and the recent focus on the economy hasn't helped him. So McCain has gone on the offensive with a tactic he first tried over the summer, painting Barack Obama as too risky to be president. At a campaign rally in New Mexico yesterday, McCain told supporters his own strengths and weaknesses are well-known after a quarter century in Washington. But he suggested there are still unanswered questions about the freshman senator he's running against.

JOHN MCCAIN: All people want to know is what has this man ever actually accomplished in government?

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

MCCAIN: What does he plan for America?

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SHOUTING)

MCCAIN: In short, who is the real Barack Obama?

HORSLEY: Running mate Sarah Palin sounded the same ominous theme over the weekend, reminding crowds of the loose ties between Obama and William Ayers, a member of the radical Weather Underground responsible for deadly bombings in the 1960s. Ayers later became a professor in Chicago where he served on the board of an educational project with Obama. McCain left the Ayers attacks to Palin while he stuck to criticizing Obama's tax policies and his response to the mortgage mess behind the current financial turmoil. McCain argued that while he tried to crack down on problems at mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Obama was turning a blind eye.

MCCAIN: To hear him talk now, you'd think he'd always opposed the dangerous practices at these institutions. But there is absolutely nothing in his record to suggest he did. Nothing, zero, zippo, nada.

HORSLEY: The Obama camp responded that while the Illinois senator didn't weigh in against Fannie and Freddie, he did sponsor legislation more than two years ago to combat mortgage fraud and discourage high-risk loans. The town hall format of tonight's debate is familiar to McCain who's held more than a hundred town hall meetings over the course of his campaign. McCain enjoys the give and take with ordinary voters, although it's not clear their questions will provide the opening he wants to press his attack on Obama's character. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Nashville.

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Correction Oct. 7, 2008

In the story, we described William Ayers as "a member of the radical Weather Underground responsible for deadly bombings in the 1960s." In fact, no one was killed or injured in any of the bombings that the group claimed responsibility for, and most of their activities, including bombings, were conducted in the 1970s.

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