John McCain, calling himself a man of action like his hero Teddy Roosevelt, told a raucous crowd here Monday that he had helped lead the charge to pass the Wall Street rescue plan. “I’ve never been afraid of stepping in to solve problems for the American people,” McCain said to cheers and applause.
Two hours later, the bailout plan that McCain had boasted of working for was defeated in the House, with McCain’s fellow Republicans siding solidly against it.
As the stock market plummeted on the news, McCain was forced to make a second and far more somber statement defending his work on the plan.
“I worked hard to play a constructive role in bringing everyone to the table,” he told reporters gathered at his next campaign stop, in Iowa. He said he had helped shape the bill to lessen the risk to taxpayers.
The spectacular failure of the rescue plan in the House, and the stock market losses that followed, presented a challenge to both major presidential candidates, who had cautiously supported the plan and had attended a high-profile meeting with President Bush last week designed to advance a deal on the legislation.
After the plan failed, each candidate urged Congress to try again and called for a renewed spirit of bipartisanship -- even while the campaigns traded blame and barbs.
Though Obama said no one person was at fault in the financial crisis and that there was a “lot of blame to spread around,” he urged voters to consider McCain’s record of favoring deregulation of the nation’s financial markets as they weighed which candidate would best steer the nation’s economic “ship into port.”
“With so much at stake -- with our economy at risk, our children’s future in the balance -- the greatest risk in this election is to repeat the same mistakes of the past,” Obama said. “We can’t take a chance on that same losing game.”
McCain also called for bipartisanship, yet he likewise criticized his rival.
“Sen. Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process,” McCain said, referring to the failed House vote. He continued: “Now is not the time to fix the blame; it’s time to fix the problem.”
McCain’s campaign went further, with senior policy advisor Doug Holtz-Eakin placing the blame squarely on the Democratic presidential candidate and his party.
“This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country,” he said.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton characterized the statements as “angry and hyper-partisan” and said they were “exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington.”
The candidates spent Monday rallying voters in the battleground states of Ohio and Colorado, which have a combined 29 electoral votes. President Bush carried both in 2004, but polls show they will be tight races in November.
McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, accompanied him to the Columbus rally before traveling to Arizona, where she will prepare for Thursday’s vice presidential debate in St. Louis.
Palin said that she looked forward to debating Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. The two have never met. “But I’ve been hearing about his speeches since I was in the second grade,” she quipped.
Mehta reported from Columbus and West Des Moines, Iowa; Reston reported from Westminster, Colo.