Sen. John McCain joined in the attacks Thursday on Sen. Barack Obama for his ties to the 1960s radical William Ayers, telling a raucous crowd in Wisconsin that “we need to know the full extent of the relationship” to judge whether Obama “is telling the truth.”
Obama, in turn, condemned McCain's plan for the government to buy bad home loans as a “bailout” for risk-taking banks and lenders, and he told several thousand voters in Dayton, Ohio, that McCain's approach to the financial crisis was “risky” and “erratic.”
The language and tone indicated that both men would continue their negative campaigning up to Election Day.
But what has been most striking about the past 48 hours on the campaign trail is the increasingly hostile atmosphere at McCain's rallies.
“I'm really mad!” shouted a man in Waukesha, where McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, were conducting a town-hall-style meeting. “And what's going to surprise you, it's not the economy. It's the socialists taking over our country.”
Although McCain did not mention Ayers, a founder of the radical group the Weather Underground, by name, his intent was clear in his response to a question about Obama. A man asked McCain, “Is there not a way to get around this media and line up the people he has hung with?”
McCain responded, “Well, sir, with your help and the people in this room, we will find out.” He added: “Look, we don't care about an old washed-up terrorist and his wife, who still, at least on Sept. 11, 2001, said he still wanted to bomb more. … The point is, Sen. Obama said he was just a guy in the neighborhood. We need to know that's not true.”
McCain's reference to Ayers was from a New York Times article published on Sept. 11, 2001, about Ayers and his memoir, “Fugitive Days.” The article opened with a quotation: “I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.” Three days later, Ayers wrote on his Web site that the meaning of his remarks had been distorted.
In Ohio, Obama took aim at McCain's mortgage plan, which would allow millions of struggling Americans to refinance their mortgages with government help, leaving taxpayers to cover the losses rather than the banks or other institutions that hold the mortgages.
Obama zeroed in on the potential cost to taxpayers, which would result from the government's having to pay full face value on the mortgage papers even if the homes were worth less than the outstanding mortgage balance.
“It's a plan that would guarantee that American taxpayers lose by handing over $300 billion to underwrite the kind of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street that got us into this mess,” Obama said.