ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (AFP) — Barack Obama hammered Republican White House rival John McCain Sunday for wanting to "turn the page" on the US economic crisis and engage in low-blow personal attacks a month from election day.
The Democrat hit back with a new television spot after McCain's running mate Sarah Palin accused Obama of consorting with "terrorists," in a blistering attack on his ties to former anti-Vietnam War militant William Ayers.
"Senator McCain and his operatives are gambling that he can distract you with smears rather than talk to you about substance," Obama told a giant crowd here, said by police to number at least 28,000 people.
"They'd rather tear our campaign down than lift this country up. That's what you do when you're out of touch, out of ideas, and running out of time," the Illinois senator said, ahead of the second presidential debate Tuesday.
The new Obama ad called McCain "erratic" and "out of touch." It featured footage of a shuttered factory, a panicked financial trading floor and a family struggling to make ends meet.
It juxtaposed those images with remarks from top McCain adviser Greg Strimple, who said the campaign was "looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis" and instead attack Obama's "aggressively liberal record."
"We're facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and John McCain wants us to 'turn the page' on talking about the economy?" Obama said, drawing derisive jeers from the North Carolina crowd.
McCain was preparing for Tuesday's debate near his ranch in Arizona, and needs a game-changing performance to turn the tide in the buildup to the November 4 vote.
On the home stretch of the campaign, Obama said he would hammer away at the issues as crisis sweeps through Wall Street and Main Street -- and the polls are breaking his way both nationally and in battleground states.
Sunday's national tracking poll by Gallup gave Obama 50 percent support, compared to 43 percent for McCain.
But after Congress approved a 700-billion-dollar financial bailout plan last week, the McCain campaign now hopes to portray Obama as unfit to lead owing to his comparative inexperience and liberal associates.
Alaska Governor Palin Saturday raised the Ayers connection after a New York Times report on the Chicago professor of education and former member of a group of 1960s radicals called the Weathermen.
The group carried out a series of bombings on the Pentagon and other government buildings. The Times report backed up Obama's assertions that he is only loosely connected to Ayers in Chicago's milieu of politics and charity.
But Palin accused the Illinois senator of "palling around with terrorists" and said the Democrat was therefore "not a man who sees America as you and I do, as the greatest force for good in the world."
Obama aides called the one-term governor's remarks "shameless," and the candidate said McCain was reprising the kind of "Swift Boat" smears that helped to sink 2004 nominee John Kerry's campaign against President George W. Bush.
Ayers hosted a gathering at his home when Obama was starting out in state politics back in 1995, and they worked through a charity to reform Chicago schools. But aides said the pair had not met in at least three years.
However, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds insisted that Ayers formed part of a network of Chicago backers including convicted fraudster Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a property tycoon who used to be a top fundraiser for Obama.
"The last four weeks of this election will be about whether the American people are willing to turn our economy and national security over to Barack Obama, a man with little record, questionable judgment, and ties to radical figures like unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers," he said.
Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, one of the Democratic Party's fiercest attack dogs, said McCain was playing with fire.
"At 58, John McCain was associating with Charles Keating," he told CNN, referring to a businessman who was jailed in the massive savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, the worst scandal of McCain's career.
"I'm not in the business of giving political advice to John McCain. But I would watch when you're going to deal with associations," Emanuel warned.
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