Obama, McCain get personal in final presidential debate

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New York, Oct.16 : Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama launched personal attacks against each other in the final presidential debate at the Hofstra University campus in New York on Wednesday.

According to Fox News, while McCain accused Obama of trying to falsely link him to President Bush, raise taxes on hard-working Americans and brush aside "hurtful" comments made by one of his key supporters, Obama accused McCain of exclusively running negative ads, and repeatedly said he was distorting the facts about his past associations.

The tone of the debate was decidedly more tense than that of their previous two encounters. It was also a key opportunity for McCain to halt Obama's growing momentum in the polls.

The Republican nominee used the intimate format to challenge Obama's economic policies directly and attempt to refute his campaign's central argument that he is akin to President Bush.

"Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you want to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain said at the debate.

Obama repeated Wednesday that McCain has followed the economic policies of the Bush administration, saying: "What the American people cannot afford ... is four more years of failed economic policies."

McCain also accused Obama of giving Democratic Georgia Rep. John Lewis a pass when he over the weekend suggested McCain was fostering an environment of intolerance similar to that stoked by segregationist George Wallace.

"That to me was so hurtful, and Senator Obama, you didn't repudiate those remarks," McCain said, calling segregation the "worst chapter in American history."

Obama said it was inappropriate for Lewis to draw that comparison, but said he was not prompted by the Obama campaign and accused McCain's running mate Sarah Palin of permitting audience members to shout things like "terrorist" and "kill him" at their rallies.

"Your running mate didn't ... stop (it), didn't say 'hold on a second, that's kind of out of line.' I think Congressman Lewis' point was we have to be careful," Obama said.

Obama also criticized McCain for drawing attention over the past two weeks to 1960s radical William Ayers and the low-income advocacy group ACORN, which is under investigation for voter fraud. Obama downplayed his ties to both, and said McCain's focus on the issues "says more about your campaign than it says about me."

In the opening moments of the debate, Obama and McCain sparred sharply over taxes, using as an example an Ohio man who's become known on the campaign trail as "Joe the Plumber."

Obama was videotaped in Ohio over the weekend talking to the plumber, Joe Wurzelbacher, who challenged the Democratic nominee on his tax policies and expressed concern that he'd raise taxes. Obama told him he wants to "spread the wealth around."

"Joe was trying to realize the American dream. ... We're going to take Joe's money, give it to Senator Obama and let him spread the wealth around," McCain said Wednesday, mocking Obama's statement. "I want Joe the Plumber to spread that wealth around."

McCain added, "Nobody likes taxes. Let's not raise anybody's taxes."

"Well, I don't mind paying a little more," Obama responded.

The Democratic nominee repeated that his plan would cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, and that those making less than 250,000 dollars a year would not see a tax increase. He said Wurzelbacher could have used his tax break when he was growing his business.

Obama accused McCain of watching too much of his own campaign ads after he brought up Joe the Plumber.

The two candidates also discussed their latest economic rescue plans. McCain stressed that more attention needs to be paid to homeowners and directly easing the burden of cumbersome mortgages. Obama stressed the need to directly aid to the middle class.

"What we haven't yet seen is a rescue package for the middle class because the fundamentals of the economy were weak even before this latest crisis," Obama said.

CBS' Bob Schieffer moderated the debate. The focus was domestic policy.

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