Republican John McCain called on Tuesday for a high-level commission to tackle America's economic crisis, moving to blunt criticism from Democrat Barack Obama who says his opponent is out of touch and unfit to deal with one of the most serious financial meltdowns to hit the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Despite ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans voiced far deeper concern about the economy as an election year issue even before two giant investment firms collapsed and the stock market plunged Monday by a margin not seen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Both candidates were grasping for advantage in the economic turmoil, with McCain vowing to wipe out "greed and corruption" on Wall Street while Obama declared his opponent would deliver only a continuation of President George W. Bush's economic policies that have been blamed for the economic crisis.
McCain said he envisions a high-level commission to study the economic crisis that would match that which looked into Sept. 11 attacks.
Obama dismissed the commission idea, saying it showed McCain was trying to pass the buck instead of offering concrete plans to deal with the nation's economic crisis.
"This isn't 9/11," Obama said at a campaign stop in Golden, Colorado. "We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out. I'll provide it. John McCain won't."
In making the call, McCain backed off his remark Monday that the "fundamentals of the economy are strong." McCain defined the fundamentals of the economy as American workers and said that the backbone — and products — of those workers remained sound despite the Wall Street turmoil.
Appearing Tuesday on three network morning shows, McCain said there was indeed a financial crisis and that to understand what had caused it, the U.S. would need a review on the order of the one led by the Sept. 11 commission. That bipartisan panel studied the events leading to the 2001 terrorist attacks and recommended changes to avert another attack.
"I warned two years ago that this situation was deteriorating and unacceptable," McCain said on "Good Morning America" on ABC. "And the old-boy network and the corruption in Washington is directly involved and one of the causes of this financial crisis that we're in today.
Later, a McCain economics and policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said any plan should include regulation of all sorts of financial institutions, consumer protections, improved corporate governance and "systems stability" programs.
Placing the blame
Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden countered that the economic policies of McCain and the Bush administration were what had betrayed American workers.
Obama, meanwhile, took aim at McCain's remarks about sound economic fundamentals with a new TV ad that asks, "How can John McCain fix our economy if he doesn't understand it's broken?"
Obama was campaigning in Colorado again on Tuesday where he no doubt will continue hammering McCain for his "fundamentals" remark. The comment, the Illinois senator said, only showed again that McCain was out of touch with the economic distress of struggling middle-class families.
The 47-year-old Obama then flies to Los Angeles for a fundraiser where singer and actress Barbra Streisand is the major draw.
McCain was still campaigning in Florida before joining running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Ohio. She has energized the McCain campaign since her surprise pick to join him on the Republican ticket earlier this month.
Her wild popularity among the party's conservative Christian base had moved McCain to a slight lead over Obama in the polls but with seven weeks remaining until Election Day the candidates are now in a statistical tie, according to the Gallup Poll daily tracking survey.
On Monday, Obama courted working-class voters he failed to win over in the primary campaign and called the chaos in financial markets "the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression" of the 1930s. His assessment is drawn from that of many U.S. economists, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
"Let's recognize that this is a once-in- a-half-century, probably once-in-a-century type of event" — the worst "by far" in his career, Greenspan said on Sunday.
'Clean up Wall Street'
Obama said McCain's record showed he was not fit to deal with the crisis.
"In 19 months he (McCain) has not named one thing he would do differently from this administration on the central issue of this election. Not one thing," Obama said. "And we know that if we go down that path, that the next four years will look exactly like the last eight."
A major theme for Obama has been that a McCain presidency would only continue the policies of the deeply unpopular Bush.
McCain sought to ease voter concerns by vowing to "clean up Wall Street," and promising during a Florida campaign stop that "The McCain-Palin administration will replace an outdated, patchwork quilt of regulatory oversight and bring transparency and accountability to Wall Street,"
Also Monday, the McCain campaign sought to put to rest the ethical controversy that has come to be known as "Troopergate," releasing e-mails supporting Palin's contention that she dismissed her public safety commissioner over budget disagreements, not because he would not fire her ex-brother-in-law. The campaign also said Palin is unlikely to speak with an investigator hired by Alaska state lawmakers to look into the matter.
Palin was rejoining McCain in Ohio later Tuesday, and Biden, and his wife, Jill, were campaigning in Pennsylvania. Both states are viewed as crucial battlegrounds on Nov. 4.