WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the deepening U.S. economic crisis rippling around the globe, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain seem to agree the question facing anxious voters is: Who do you trust?
"All we heard from Sen. McCain was more of the same Bush economics that led us into this mess," Obama said in Indianapolis the day after their second debate. "He thinks we won't notice" downsides of his health care proposals, but "we're not going to be hoodwinked. We're not going to be bamboozled. We're not going to let him get away with it."
In Bethlehem, Pa., McCain shot back: "I don't need lessons about telling the truth to American people." And, McCain said, if he ever did, he "probably wouldn't seek advice from a Chicago politician." On taxes, health care and subprime mortgages, McCain said Obama "won't tell you" his real record.
Each also rolled out new TV commercials suggesting his rival was not telling the truth, and campaign aides for both launched other character attacks.
With the election in four weeks and the final debate in one, Obama leads in key states but has yet to sew up the race; The 47-year-old, first-term Illinois senator is still working to dispel skepticism that he has what it takes to be president. As time runs short, McCain is searching for a way to marshal support as the spreading economic woes cut against almost all Republicans after President Bush's eight years in the White House.
In Tuesday night's debate, both Obama and McCain railed against Washington and Wall Street and belittled special interests and lobbyists; each cast himself as the only candidate who will fight for everyday Americans. Also, Obama argued that McCain would perpetuate the policies of the unpopular Bush, while McCain cast Obama as a risky liberal who backs more government spending.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve and five other central banks on both sides of the Atlantic implemented a coordinated emergency interest rate cut but the move supplied only a short-lived bounce to world markets. Major stock indexes on Wall Street and in Britain, Germany and France all ended the day down again.
In separate statements as the day began, Obama and McCain applauded the Fed's action. Each portrayed himself as the only one on the side of anxious Americans watching the economic upheaval drain their retirement accounts and hinder their ability to get loans.
"I am committed to protecting the American worker in this crisis," McCain said. He promoted his plan, announced at the debate the night before, that would direct the Treasury Department to buy up bad home mortgages by using nearly half the $700 billion from the recent bailout package. "I will get the economy back on track," McCain added.
The Republican also said he would balance the federal budget by the end of his term, although the Bush administration predicts the deficit and a recession would further complicate that task.
Initially, Obama sought to reclaim a piece of McCain's mortgage proposal. He previously had said the government should consider doing just that, and on Wednesday said the Treasury Department officials "should use the authority they already have to purchase troubled assets, including mortgages." He also renewed his call for a second economic stimulus package for the middle class, saying: "More urgent and vigorous action is necessary to stem this crisis."
Later after McCain released more details of his plan, Obama's campaign said McCain's plan would end up rewarding troubled mortgage companies with even more taxpayer dollars and assailed it as "even more costly and out-of-touch" than ever imagined. In a shot aimed at raising doubts about McCain's temperament, they called his plan "erratic policy-making at its worst."
McCain's aides also assailed Obama's character anew, e-mailing more news releases highlighting the Democrat's association with former 1960s radical William Ayers, now a college professor in Chicago. It fed into McCain's pitch that voters can't trust Obama.
Polls consistently show Obama has an edge over McCain on the question of who would best handle the economy and the current crisis.
But an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll last month also showed that more people view McCain as honest and ethical.
McCain may be trying to capitalize on this edge.
On Wednesday, McCain unveiled a commercial that asked "Who is Barack Obama," called him "the most liberal" senator and mocked him for complaining that the Republicans are lying about his record. "Mr. Obama, we all know the truth," it said. "Not presidential."
Obama, in turn, announced a TV spot that said: "Here's the truth" to McCain's heath care plan. "Instead of fixing health care, he wants to tax it."
Judging by history, McCain's government mortgage buying plan may not change the trajectory of the campaign.
"When times are really bad, voters are looking to put the other team in power and kick the current guys out," said Thomas Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank. "They're not evaluating specific proposals for the economy. They're looking for reassurance and evaluating whether the candidate of the other party looks trustworthy."