America's stumbling economy remains the focus of the U.S. presidential contest, as Democrat Barack Obama seeks to link Republican John McCain to Bush administration policies and raging energy costs, growing unemployment and mounting home mortgage foreclosures.
McCain, in turn, said on Tuesday that Obama's plan to increase taxes would hurt small businesses that are vital to the economy and would slow job growth. He also lashed out at the Democrat for pledging to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"You work hard in small businesses to grow and create new jobs and opportunities for others," McCain said, speaking at a small business owners conference in Washington. "The federal government shouldn't make your work any harder."
Obama has argued that McCain's policies are no different from those of President George W. Bush, and he blames those policies for the slumping economy. The first-term Illinois senator has pledged to end the Bush administration's tax cuts for upper-income workers and has called for new taxes on oil companies and wealthy individuals, along with $1,000 tax cuts for the middle class.
McCain, who was introduced by eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, was briefly interrupted by protesters who yelled that war is bad for small business. The protesters were booed, and McCain used the interruptions to call for a civil debate in the campaign.
The Republican nominee-in-waiting was heading later Tuesday to New York for a fourth fundraising event in two days.
Obama on Tuesday was in the second day of a two-week tour of regions that have been reliably Republican and swing states that could be key in deciding the November general election. He was to speak in Missouri, which voted Republican in the last two presidential contests.
Obama, who made history by being the first black to win the nomination of a major U.S. political party, is shifting attention to the economy and away from national security and foreign policy _ issues where McCain feels stronger given his more than 20 years of experience in the Senate. Polls show that the weak U.S. economy has surpassed the Iraq war as the issue most troubling voters.
McCain is airing TV ads in key states on the Iraq war, which he sees as a better issue for him.
In his first speech since Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton suspended her run for the White House, Obama targeted her working-class constituency, which has taken the brunt of the sharp economic downturn. Obama spoke Monday in North Carolina, where those voters have been especially affected.
Repeatedly linking McCain to fellow Republican President George W. Bush, Obama said, "our president sacrificed investments in health care, and education, and energy, and infrastructure on the altar of tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs."
Obama criticized McCain for originally opposing Bush's first-term tax cuts but now supporting their continuation. He said he would place a windfall profits tax on oil companies while McCain would reduce their taxes.
Obama offered no new policies in his speech Monday. He summarized earlier proposals, including raising income taxes on the wealthy, granting a $1,000 tax cut to most others, winding down the Iraq war, tightening credit card regulations and pumping more money into education, alternative fuels and infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
The Democrat also ramped up his search for a running mate on Monday, consulting with fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin by phone and dispatching members of his vice presidential vetting team to the Congress for meetings with top Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives.