LIANE HANSEN, host:

All indicators are now pointing to the economy as the focus of the presidential campaign. Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are trading barbs on who is best-equipped to handle the growing crisis in the financial markets. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Republican John McCain took a break from the campaign trail yesterday, spending the day in Annapolis for his 50th class reunion at the U.S. Naval Academy. But that doesn't mean there was no politicking. In his weekly radio address, McCain said the nation's financial crisis started with the corruption and manipulation of the home mortgage system.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Nominee): Two years ago, I called for reform of this corruption at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Congress did nothing. The administration did nothing. Senator Obama did nothing, and actually profited from this system of abuse and scandal.

ELLIOTT: He accused Obama of, quote, "gaming the system by taking campaign contributions from executives at the mortgage giants." Senator McCain proposes a new government entity, the Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust, to buy up bad debt.

Senator MCCAIN: The MFI is an early intervention program to help financial institutions avoid bankruptcy, expensive bailouts, and damage to their customers.

ELLIOTT: He's also calling for regulatory clarity. Campaigning in Jacksonville, Florida, yesterday, Democrat Barack Obama fought back, criticizing McCain as a deregulator, not only in the past, but even today.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Nominee): He wrote in the current issue of a magazine, current issue, and I quote, "Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition as we've done over the last decade in banking would provide more choices of innovative product less burdened by the excesses - the worst excesses of state-based regulation."

ELLIOTT: Obama linked that philosophy to today's problems in the financial markets.

Senator OBAMA: That's why John McCain says he wants to do for health care what Washington did for banking. Folks, let me tell you, we don't want to go there. That's a risk America can't afford.

ELLIOTT: Both men took a break from the debate over the economy to make statements about the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan. Senator McCain called it an outrageous act of violence and pointed to violent Islamic extremism. Senator Obama said the attack, quote, "demonstrates the grave and urgent threat that al-Qaeda and its affiliates pose to the United States, to Pakistan, and to the security of all nations." Obama campaigns today in North Carolina, recently considered Republican turf. And for the GOP ticket, Sarah Palin will be in hotly contested Florida. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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