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McCain and Obama campaigns go negative in home stretch

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“I do think the Democrats want the election to be completely about the economy, but I think they learned a lesson over the past few presidential elections, and that is, if they ignore attacks, those attacks will be believed,” says Stuart Rothenberg, editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter. “So I think they have to respond to get it back to the economy.”

Obama responds in kind

But Obama is responding not with a full-throated defense of his past connections to Mr. Ayers and Mr. Rezko, but by bringing up Charles Keating, the savings-and-loan operator whom McCain was accused of helping inappropriately back in the late 1980s.

What Obama is trying to do, says Mr. Rothenberg, is neutralize the character issue, so that voters will conclude that neither candidate is perfect and vote on the economy.

In the process, the Obama campaign appears to be hoping that swing voters – many of whom pay casual attention to politics – know little about Mr. Keating and will be disturbed by the story.

The Obama campaign has set up a website dedicated to the Keating scandal, www.keatingeconomics.com, and at noon Eastern time on Monday was to release a 13-minute documentary on the subject.

The McCain campaign, for its part, has made clear that vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will play the traditional running mate role of attack dog. Over the weekend, in campaign appearances, she accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists” – a reference to his connection to Ayers, a founder of the radical Weather Underground group in the 1960s.

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