LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AFP) — Democrat Barack Obama ridiculed his White House rival John McCain Wednesday as a lifelong member of the "old boys' network" that the Republican said had driven the US economy into crisis.
McCain vowed to take on Wall Street's "casino culture" after the US government's 85-billion-dollar bailout of giant insurer American International Group, the latest shock of a horrific fortnight for the financial industry.
Both candidates indicated the Federal Reserve's lifeline was regrettable but necessary to prevent AIG's troubles engulfing the wider economy.
McCain, however, had said Tuesday that taxpayers should not have to foot the bill, while Obama indicated he still wanted more details about the government rescue.
Obama, arguing the United States was "in the midst of the most serious financial crisis in generations," heaped scorn on McCain for claiming the economy was "strong" and then vowing to shake up Washington.
"This is someone who's been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign -- and now he tells us that he's the one who will take on the 'old boy network'?" Obama said.
"The old boys' network? In the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting," he said to hoots of derision from crowds in Elko and Las Vegas during his fourth trip of the general election to the battleground state of Nevada.
Ahead of the November 4 election, Obama is driving home his polling edge on the economy to hammer his Republican adversary as out of touch with voters' anxieties in the face of rising job losses and home seizures.
The latest Gallup daily tracking poll had Obama back in front overall, by 47 percent to 45, after McCain had enjoyed a post-convention bounce since picking Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
Another survey by CNN/Time magazine/Opinion Research Corp. had the two candidates virtually tied in five pivotal states: Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Palin took her first questions from the public at a "town hall" meeting with McCain in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Asked about doubts over her foreign policy expertise, the first-term governor insisted: "I am prepared.
"You can even play 'stump the candidate' if you want to, but I'm ready to serve," she said.
McCain told ABC the economy was in "one of the most severe crises in modern times." But during a visit to a General Motors factory in Lake Orion, Michigan, he stressed: "I reject the doom and gloom that says our nation is in decline.
"America's best days are ahead of us," he said, battling to turn his characterization Monday of the US economy as "strong" into a defense of US workers' resilience.
"We're going to take care of the workers. They're the ones that deserve our help," he said at the plant of GM, a venerable name in US industry that is now undergoing a painful restructuring comprising mass layoffs.
But Obama derided McCain for "his 11th hour conversion to the language of reform," attacking the Republican's record of opposing any increases to the federal minimum wage or tighter regulation of Wall Street.
In front of a largely Hispanic crowd numbering about 14,000 in a Las Vegas baseball stadium, the Democrat said he was confident that Americans would rise to the challenge of the present financial tumult.
"But the one thing I do know is this: we can't steer ourselves out of this crisis if we're heading in the same disastrous direction," he said, again linking McCain to the deeply unpopular Republican President George W. Bush.
"We can't steer ourselves out of this crisis if the new driver is getting directions from the old driver, and that's what this election is all about."
McCain blamed a patchwork of US regulatory agencies for creating the conditions that led to the collapse of AIG, following the deal late Tuesday under which the US government took a 79.9 percent stake in the company.
"These actions stem from failed regulation, reckless management and a casino culture on Wall Street that has crippled one of the most important companies in America," the Republican said in a statement.
Palin, in an interview on Fox Wednesday, call for "more stringent" Wall Street regulations, saying that "government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings."
But she strongly hinted she was opposed to future government bailouts such as the one for AIG.
"First and foremost, taxpayers cannot be looked to as the bailout, as the solution to the problems on Wall Street," she said.
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