Election 2008

Chris Carlson/AP

Wall Street Woes Seemingly Turn Tide in Presidential Race

September 18, 2008 05:39 PM
by Liz Colville
New polls show McCain trailing Obama in the midst of a stock market downturn on which both candidates have been intently focused in speeches and statements.

‘A Limited Burst of Interest’

The latest New York Times/CBS poll, taken over the phone from September 12 to 16 “during a period of extraordinary turmoil on Wall Street,” found that a vast majority of those polled said the economy was the “top issue affecting their voting decision,” the New York Times reported September 18.

Although the poll also suggested that many voters think Ariz. Sen. John McCain has “a substantial advantage over Mr. Obama as a potential commander in chief” and were greatly “enthused” by the Republican National Convention, there was also evidence that the so-called “Palin effect” may have created only a “limited burst of interest.”

In a September 17 Gallup Daily poll, data put Ill. Sen. Barack Obama ahead of his opponent for the first time since the beginning of the Republican National Convention, 47 to 45 percent. Gallup called the results “a slight, although not statistically significant, edge” for Obama. A Quinnipiac University national poll conducted from September 11-16 had Obama’s lead slightly higher, at 49 percent to McCain’s 45.

Background: Economic woes shift campaign climate

Both presidential candidates have been focusing on the economy this week, commenting on what they believe to be the causes of the troubles on Wall Street and criticizing each other’s responses. Speaking about the federal buyout of AIG, McCain said, “These actions stem from failed regulation, reckless management and a casino culture on Wall Street.” Obama responded by calling the AIG buyout “the final verdict on the failed economic philosophy of the last eight years,” adding that McCain’s words were “an eleventh-hour conversion to the language of reform” after years of advocating cuts in federal economic regulations.

At a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on September 18, McCain accused his opponent of having deep ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two embroiled lenders bought out by the federal government in August. “While the leaders of Fannie and Freddie were lining the pockets of [Obama’s] campaign,” McCain said, “they were sowing the seeds of the financial crisis we see today and enriching themselves with millions of dollars in payments. That’s not change, that’s what’s broken in Washington.”

The Washington Post reported in July that both candidates’ campaigns have ties to the lending firms. And, according to CNN, “both [Obama and McCain] have ties to lobbyists, meaning whomever wins will have a hard time backing up the rhetoric about change and shaking up Washington.”

Opinion & Analysis: The candidates and the economy

Some Republicans and McCain supporters have made statements this week that may have hurt the Arizona senator in the polls. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a chief economic advisor to McCain, said in an MSNBC interview September 16, “I don’t think John McCain could run a major corporation.” The Obama campaign seized on the remark, with spokesman Tommy Vietor saying, “If John McCain’s top economic adviser doesn't think he can run a corporation, how on Earth can he run the largest economy in the world in the midst of a financial crisis?”

But, after some speculation that Fiorina had been “hidden away” by the McCain campaign as a result of her comments, she was back defending McCain in a September 18 interview with CBS, outlining some of the changes the Republican candidate is proposing to grow the economy and create economic reforms in Washington.

Timothy Garton Ash of U.K. newspaper the Guardian argues, “If people vote with their heads, “the economy, stupid” should help Obama to victory. For all the external causes in the world beyond America’s shores, this financial and economic hurricane has blown up on George W Bush’s watch. … McCain’s economic policies are not so different, nor is he very convincing in presenting them.”

Still, some Democrats hold to the belief that their candidate isn’t doing enough to tackle McCain. In Newsweek, Howard Fineman writes that, at a Washington event earlier this week, “the mood among party faithful was sober to the point of gloomy” despite Obama’s having regained a lead over McCain in polls. At that event, former congressman Don Riegle told Fineman that “[w]all busting determination … is what Obama needed to display if he hoped to defeat Sen. John McCain.”

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