NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Senators John McCain and Barack Obama hammered away at each other's judgment on the economy, domestic policy and foreign affairs as they faced off in their second presidential debate.
Obama tried to tie McCain to President Bush's "failed" policies, while McCain pushed his image as a "consistent reformer" at the debate, which took place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
The debate was set up as a town hall meeting, and the audience was made up of undecided voters. Obama and McCain fielded questions from the crowd, Internet participants, and moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News.
The candidates spoke directly to each other at times, but at other times they spoke as if their opponent were not on the same stage, a few feet away. In comparison to the first debate, Tuesday's event --which came on the heels of several days of increasingly aggressive attacks from both sides -- took on a more contentious tone.
On foreign policy, McCain charged that Obama "does not understand" the country's national security challenges. McCain said he knows how to handle foreign affairs and questioned Obama's ability to do so.
"Sen. Obama was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia. And in his short career, he does not understand our national security challenges," McCain said. "We don't have time for on-the-job training, my friends."
McCain said the "challenge" facing a president considering using military force "is to know when to go in and when not."
Obama shot back and questioned McCain's judgment in supporting the invasion of Iraq.
"When Sen. McCain was cheerleading the president to go into Iraq, he suggested it was going to be quick and easy, we'd be greeted as liberators," he said. "That was the wrong judgment, and it's been costly to us."
The candidates spent about 30 minutes of the debate focusing on foreign affairs. They spoke about the economy for about 45 minutes and spent 15 minutes discussing domestic issues. A national poll of debate watchers suggested that Obama won the presidential debate.
Fifty-four percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released 30 minutes after the end of the debate said that Obama did the best job, while 30 percent said McCain performed better.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted by telephone with 675 adult Americans who watched the debate. All interviews were taken after the end of the debate. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
At the start of the debate, Obama said the country is in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
He blamed President Bush and McCain for the crisis, saying they had worked to "strip away regulation."
McCain said the system in Washington "cries out for bipartisanship" and pushed his record as a reformer.
He proposed having the government buy up and renegotiate bad home loans to stabilize the property market. He admitted the plan would be expensive but said it was necessary. The Arizona senator also hammered away at his rival's tax policies, saying that "nailing down Sen. Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall."
McCain charged that "Obama's secret that you don't know" is that he would increase taxes on small business revenue, which he said would lead to job cuts.