OXFORD, MISS. - Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over the financial crisis and foreign policy in a wide-ranging presidential debate Friday night at the University of Mississippi.
The financial crisis initially took center stage with a spirited exchange between the two men. Moderator Jim Lehrer then moved on to foreign policy and national security issues.
McCain accused Obama of compiling "the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate." The Democrat shot back, "Mostly that's just me opposing George Bush's wrong-headed policies."
Obama said his Republican rival has been a loyal supporter of the unpopular president across the past eight years, adding that the current economic crisis is "a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by President Bush and supported by Sen. McCain."
"And we can't afford another four," he added moments later.
The two men stood behind identical wooden lecterns on the stage of a performing arts center at the University of Mississippi for the first of three scheduled debates with less than six weeks remaining until Election Day. The two vice presidential candidates will meet next week for their only debate.
The 47-year-old Obama is seeking to become the nation's first black president. McCain, 72, is hoping to become the oldest first-term chief executive in history - and he made a few jokes at his own expense.
"I've been around a while," he said at one point. "Were you afraid I couldn't hear you?" he said at another after Obama repeated a comment.
Moderator Lehrer's opening question concerned the economic crisis gripping Wall Street. While neither man committed to supporting bailout legislation taking shape in Congress, they readily agreed lawmakers must take action to prevent millions of Americans from losing their jobs and their homes.
Both also said they were pleased that lawmakers in both parties were negotiating on a compromise.
But they clashed over spending, taxes, energy and war in the first half of the 90-minute encounter.
McCain jabbed at Obama, saying he had requested millions of dollars in pork barrel spending, including some after he began running for president.
As he does frequently while campaigning, the Republican vowed to veto any lawmaker's pork barrel project that reaches his desk in the White House. "You will know their names and I will make them famous," he said.
The debate unfolded at a particularly tumultuous point in the campaign, with Bush and Congress struggling to avert a full-blown financial crisis.
McCain announced he would suspend his campaign earlier this week to return to Washington and take part in meetings on the crisis. Initially, he said he would not debate unless lawmakers had reached an agreement.
He reversed course earlier in the day, deciding to attend the debate, then return to the capital later.
The stakes were high as the two rivals walked on stage. The polls gave Obama a modest lead and indicated he was viewed more favorably than his rival when it came to dealing with the economy. But the same surveys show McCain favored by far on foreign policy.