John McCain, his poll numbers sinking just two weeks before the election, questioned Barack Obama's readiness to respond to a major crisis that Obama's own running mate, Joe Biden, predicted he was bound to face early in his presidency.
McCain recalled his own experience as a Naval pilot preparing to launch a bombing run during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which Biden said tested a new President John F. Kennedy. Biden said it was the kind of "generated crisis" the 47-year-old Obama would face within six months of taking office.
"America will not have a president who needs to be tested," McCain said. "I've been tested, my friends."
McCain spoke Tuesday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a Democratic state that he hopes to win to offset gains Obama has been making on Republican territory. Obama campaigned in Florida — a big state he hopes to capture even though it voted Republican in the last two elections.
Obama's widening lead
Polls show Obama's lead widening nationwide.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, released Tuesday night, showed Obama with his biggest advantage yet over McCain.
The survey found that Obama now leads McCain by 10 points among registered voters, 52 to 42 percent, up from 49 to 43 percent two weeks ago.
Obama’s current lead is also fueled by his strength among independent voters (topping McCain 49 to 37 percent), suburban voters (53 to 41), Catholics (50 to 44) and white women ( 49 to 45).
Most importantly, state polls show Obama with a solid in lead in the state-by-state electoral college tallies that will ultimately determine the winner of the Nov. 4 election.
Palin on the stump
McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, also referred to Biden's comments and said Tuesday that Obama's own foreign policy proposals would spark the crises that would test him as president.
Playing off the Republican ticket's previous criticisms of the Democratic presidential nominee, she criticized Obama for — among other things — advocating sitting down with "the world's worst dictators" without preconditions, opposing the troop surge in Iraq and voting to cut funding to troops.
Palin also repeated familiar campaign slogans, contrasting Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal with McCain as a fiscal conservative who will do more to help struggling families and small businesses. Palin said a McCain administration would create more jobs and lead the United States to energy independence.
Anxiety over the U.S. financial meltdown is consuming voters in the final two weeks of the campaign, as they lose retirement savings, watch the ravaged housing market and see unemployment rise. Polls showed Obama is more trusted by Americans to handle the worst financial crisis in decades and he leads in nationwide polls.
Questioning the extent of Obama's experience has been a tactic of the 72-year-old McCain. He also questions whether the Illinois Democrat has the character to stand up to his own party and to stick with his core philosophical views.
Obama on Tuesday was promoting his economic credentials in Florida, where he said that McCain is offering "willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology" for an economy in crisis.
"While President Bush and Sen. McCain were ready to move heaven and earth to address the crisis on Wall Street, the president has failed so far to address the crisis on Main Street, and Sen. McCain has failed to fully acknowledge it," Obama said at a jobs summit in Palm Beach.
With the current economic crisis creating favorable conditions for Democrats, Obama has focused his final-stretch message almost entirely on that topic — and almost entirely on traditionally Republican turf. The subject of the battered economy, and battered households, is particularly timely in Florida, which has unemployment above the national average and one of the worst foreclosure rates.
At an evening rally in Miami with his wife, Michelle, Obama seized on reports that McCain wants to see how the government's recently enacted $700 billion financial rescue plan works before considering an additional economic stimulus program.
"I've got news for Sen. McCain: hardworking families who've been hard hit by this economic crisis — folks who can't pay their mortgages or their medical bills or send their kids to college — they can't afford to wait and see. They can't afford to go to the back of the line behind CEOs and Wall Street banks," Obama told the crowd of more than 30,000 filling a waterside park.
The McCain campaign shot back that Obama's stimulus plan, which includes sending billions to state and local governments to keep projects and health spending afloat, is not the right recipe.
"When Americans are hurting, Barack Obama's plan to take more and more money from pocketbooks and hand it over to mismanaged government budgets is not the solution — it's the problem," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. "Barack Obama is simply offering more of the same."
Obama is hoping to build on a slight lead in the critical battleground state of Florida before leaving the campaign trail at week's end for the bedside of his seriously ill grandmother in Hawaii.
'This campaign is about the economy'
McCain bristled during a Tuesday morning appearance on CBS television at a question about a campaign adviser's comment to a newspaper that the economy was a losing issue for Republicans. McCain said Americans need to listen to his message and plans to pull the economy away from a prolonged and deep recession.
"Listen to me. I'm the candidate, and this campaign is about the economy," he said.
A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll showed Obama's lead has increased nationally over the last month to 52 percent to 38 percent. A loss of confidence in McCain appearing to be one of the significant factors, the poll said, with 41 percent saying they have concerns about McCain's judgment compared to 29 percent saying so about Obama. Other polls have given Obama less of an advantage.
The Illinois senator's decision to pull away from the campaign Thursday and Friday to be with his gravely ill, 85-year-old grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, will cut seriously into the time he has left to persuade voters to support his candidacy. But the show of devotion to a central figure in his life could force McCain and Palin to suspend their attacks on Obama's character.
Dunham helped raise Obama, a role he highlighted in accepting the Democratic presidential nomination nearly two months ago.
Obama heads to more Republican-leaning states, Virginia and Indiana, on Wednesday and Thursday, before leaving for Hawaii.