DOVER, New Hampshire (AFP) — Barack Obama ripped into 72-year-old John McCain as an out-of-touch economic illiterate who had slept through the Internet revolution as war resumed on the White House trail Friday.
The Democrat vowed to wield the "truth" against his Republican adversary's "lies" and seize the policy high ground, but McCain denied resorting to outright untruths in his escalating attacks on Obama.
Questioned by a man frustrated with Obama's response to a Republican "smear campaign," the Illinois senator said Democrats were right to be nervous because "they've seen this movie before."
"I just have a different philosophy, and that is I am going to respond with the truth," he said, expressing confidence that US voters would not be diverted from anxieties over the economy, healthcare, education and war.
"Here's why: I can guarantee that we are going to be hitting back hard... but we're hitting back on the issues that matter to families. I'm not going to start making up lies about John McCain," Obama said.
"If they lie about us, then we will correct the record. We're not just going to sit back and watch. But this election is too important, it's too serious, to be playing silly games."
In an advertising counter-offensive launched a day after the campaigns called a truce for the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Obama's camp portrayed McCain as a "gutter" politician, not a principled maverick, in lock-step with President George W. Bush.
The sharper rhetoric came after McCain eliminated Obama's lead in the polls following his shock pick two weeks ago of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
The McCain campaign meanwhile aired a new ad accusing their rivals of disrespecting Palin, who appeared to stumble over key foreign policy questions in her first major network interview Thursday.
"He was the world's biggest celebrity, but his star's fading," the McCain ad said, accusing Obama and supporters of belittling Palin.
The independent website FactCheck.org said the McCain ad explored "new paths of deception," after other contentious claims that Obama had called Palin a "pig" and advocated teaching sex education to kindergarten children.
"Actually, they are not lies," McCain, who had no campaign events scheduled Friday, said on the ABC's "The View."
The Democratic campaign had argued that McCain's camp deliberately twisted Obama's recent comment that Republican claims to represent change were like putting "lipstick on a pig," as a sexist slur on Palin.
"He shouldn't have said it. He chooses his words very carefully, this is a tough campaign," McCain said.
Obama parried with two ads, one of which branded McCain as a Bush clone.
"1982, John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years, but McCain hasn't," the narrator said.
"He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an email. Still doesn't understand the economy, and favors 200 billion in tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class.
"After one president who was out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same."
McCain, who would be the oldest president inaugurated to a first term, told the New York Times in July: "I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself."
The 47-year-old Obama, who often taps emails out on his Blackberry, read out a remark by McCain at a New York forum on public service late Thursday, to back his argument that the Arizona senator is out of touch.
"It's easy for me to go to Washington and, frankly, be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day challenges people have," McCain had said.
"A few weeks ago, John McCain said the economy was making 'great progress' under George Bush. It was 'fundamentally sound' and in fact we were better off as a consequence of the Bush presidency," Obama said in New Hampshire.
"Maybe they don't see what's taking place, maybe they're so out of touch ... we just can't afford four more years of what John McCain and George Bush consider progress."
The latest Gallup daily tracking poll Friday had the race a statistical tie, with McCain leading 48 to 45 percent, down from a post-convention peak of a five percent lead earlier this week.
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