MOON TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania (AFP) — John McCain raised the specter of nuclear war as he struggled to overcome rival Barack Obama's widening lead in the polls with just 14 days left in the epic race to the White House.
Warning voters that the United States faces "many challenges here at home, and many enemies abroad in this dangerous world," McCain returned to the attack line that Obama has poor judgment and is not ready to lead the United States.
The next president "won't have time to get used to the office," the Republican said at a rally on Tuesday.
"I sat in the cockpit on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise off of Cuba. I had a target," McCain said, referring to the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis.
"I know how close we came to a nuclear war and I will not be a president that needs to be tested. I have been tested. Senator Obama has not."
But the Arizona senator's campaign was smarting after a poll by the Pew Research Center showed Obama ahead by 14 points, and an investigation of Republican funds indicated more than 150,000 spent on clothes for his running mate Sarah Palin.
With the presidential vote looming on November 4, voters expressed a "widespread loss of confidence in McCain," with 41 percent of Pew respondents saying McCain "showed poor judgment." Only 29 percent said that of Obama.
McCain also trails 32 to 53 on the critical question of who would best improve economic conditions.
McCain acknowledged that he was "a few points down" in the polls but vowed to continue to fight for hard-working Americans as he kept up his attack on Obama's economic policies, casting the Illinois senator as a job-killing socialist bent on "redistributing wealth."
In Florida Obama shot back, accusing McCain of turning a blind eye to the financial crisis and offering up out-dated ideas for fixing the country's troubled economy.
"The financial crisis that states, businesses and families are facing didn't just spring up full-blown overnight," the Democratic candidate said.
Pushing back at the "socialist" charge, Obama pointed to his high power supporters like billionaire financier Warren Buffett and former Republican secretary of state Colin Powell.
"Apparently Senator McCain's decided that if he can't beat our ideas, he's just gonna make up some ideas and run against those," Obama said.
"John McCain is still out there, just saying this stuff, just making it up."
As Florida voters flocked to early voting sites for a second day Tuesday, polls suggested Obama now has a slight lead over McCain in the state which was pivotal in President George W. Bush's win over Al Gore in the 2000 election.
Obama planned to meet his top national security advisors Wednesday on the sidelines of a campaign stop in Richmond, Virginia and will make a statement on the US security role in the world, his campaign said.
On Thursday and Friday he will head to Hawaii to be with his ailing grandmother, giving McCain an opportunity to dominate media coverage as he campaigns aggressively in battleground states.
McCain will meet up with running mate Sarah Palin in Ohio Wednesday following a morning rally in New Hampshire.
He will be in Florida on Thursday and the running mates are expected to campaign together again on Saturday in Iowa.
Palin, who was instrumental in rallying the Republican party's conservative base after she was named to the ticket in late August, came under fire from the Obama campaign for saying last week that the patriotic values of "real America" could only be found in conservative small towns.
Critics said that suggested she believed other areas were not "real America."
Backpedaling, Palin said on Tuesday she was sorry for her comments in an interview with CNN.
"I don't want that misunderstood," Palin said. "If that's the way it came across, I apologize."
Also, a campaign spokeswoman sought to downplay a report by the website Politico that said the Republican National Committee had spent more than 150,000 dollars on clothes for Palin and her family.
"With all of the important issues facing the country right now, it's remarkable that we're spending time talking about pantsuits and blouses," said spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.
"It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."
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