But instant polls by television networks said voters were dismayed by McCain’s negative barrage, with Obama declared the decisive victor in probably the candidates’ last face-to-face clash before the November 4 election.
McCain, down a hefty 14 points in one poll as the
Keeping his composure, Obama in turn accused McCain of trying to distract voters on a day that
At the third and final debate, McCain, 72, said he did not care about "an old washed-up terrorist" like Ayers, once a bomb-throwing militant in the Weather Underground group who is now a
"But as Senator (Hillary)
McCain also assailed the liberal group ACORN, which is accused in several states of adding fraudulent names to pro-Obama voter registration lists, and chided Obama for persistently linking him to President George W. Bush.
"Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain said, proclaiming his record of bucking the Republican line in contrast to Obama’s inexperience.
Obama, 47, accused McCain of wildly distorting the truth over both Ayers and ACORN, and said voters were turned off by the "100 percent negative" tone taken by the Republicans campaign at a time of rampant economic anxiety.
Obama said he could be forgiven for mistaking McCain’s policies for Bush’s "because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people... you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."
"I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks," the
"What the American people can’t afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies and what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what is most pressing to them, the economic crisis."
Both men appealed to "Joe the Plumber," or
"Joe wants to buy the business that hes been in for all these years," McCain said. "Worked 10, 12 hours a day. And he wanted to buy the business, but he looked at your tax plan and he saw that he was going to pay much higher taxes."
Obama hit back with his version of his chat with Joe.
"What I essentially said to him was, five years ago, when you were in the position to buy your business, you needed a tax cut then.
"And what I want to do is to make sure that the plumber, the nurse, the firefighter, the teacher, the young entrepreneur who doesn’t yet have money; I want to give them a tax break now."
McCain adviser Steve Schmidt, the architect of the Republicans get-tough strategy, insisted the
"Senator McCain did a very efficient job and won the debate on the economy tonight. Its clear to anyone who watched tonight that Senator Obama wants to spend our way into a depression," he told reporters.
But the post-debate TV polls told a different story. In CNN’s poll, 58 percent of respondents said Obama won the debate compared to 31 for McCain, with 70 percent saying Obama was more likeable. A CBS poll scored the debate 53-22 percent for the Democrat.
"(McCain) looked frankly desperate, he looked angry, frankly he did not look presidential," Democratic Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said.
A New York Times-CBS News poll late Tuesday had Obama ahead nationally by the huge margin of 14 points, 53 to 39 percent.
New CNN-Time polls showed Obama up five points among registered voters in