NASHVILLE, Tenn. - (AP) - Barack Obama and John McCain clashedrepeatedly over the causes and cures for the worst economic crisisin 80 years Tuesday night in a debate in which Republican McCaincalled for a sweeping new program to keep homeowners fromforeclosure.
"It's my proposal. It's not Sen. Obama's proposal," McCainsaid at the outset of a debate he hoped could revive his fortunesin a presidential race trending toward his rival.
Democrat Obama said the current crisis was the "final verdicton the failed economic policies of the last eight years" thatPresident Bush pursued and were "supported by Sen. McCain."
He contended that Bush, McCain and others had favoredderegulation of the financial industry, predicting that would "letmarkets run wild and prosperity would rain down on all of us. Itdidn't happen."
The debate was the second of three between the two major partyrivals, and the only one to feature a format in which voters posedquestions to the candidates.
"It's good to be with you at a town hall meeting," McCainjabbed at his rival, who spurned the Republican's calls fornumerous such joint appearances across the fall campaign.
They debated on a stage at Belmont University in a race that haslately favored Obama, both in national polls and in surveys inpivotal battleground states.
The audience was selected by Gallup, the polling organization,and was split three ways among voters leaning toward McCain, thoseleaning toward Obama and those undecided.
Tom Brokaw of NBC, the moderator, screened their questions andalso chose others that had been submitted online.
The two men also competed to demonstrate their qualifications asreformers at a time voters are clamoring for change.
McCain accused Obama of being the Senate's second-highestrecipient of donations from individuals at Fannie Mae and FreddieMac, the two now-disgraced mortgage industry giants.
"There were some of us who stood up against this," McCain saidof the lead-up to the financial crisis. "There were others who tooka hike."
Obama shot back that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, hasa stake in a Washington lobbying firm that received thousands ofdollars a month from Freddie Mac until recently.
Pivoting quickly to show his concern with members of theaudience listening from a few feet away, he said, "You're notinterested in politicians pointing fingers. You're interested inthe impact on you."
But that didn't stop the two men from criticizing one anotherrepeatedly as the topics turned to energy, spending, taxes andhealth care.
Obama said McCain was going to require taxes on the healthbenefits workers receive from their employers at the same time hisplan would wipe out the ability of states to enforce their ownregulations to require tests such as mammograms.
McCain countered that under his rival's plan "Sen. Obama willfine you" if parents fail to obtain coverage for their childrenbut had yet to say what the fine would be. "Perhaps we will findthat out tonight," he said.
Obama quickly followed up, saying that McCain "voted againstthe expansion" of the children's health care program thegovernment runs.
The two men prefer dramatically different approaches to easingthe problem of millions of uninsured Americans. McCain favors a$5,000 tax credit that he says would allow families to find andafford health care on their own.
Obama wants to build on the current system, in which millionsreceive coverage through the workplace, with government funding tohelp uninsured families obtain coverage.
McCain's pledge to have the government help individualhomeowners avoid foreclosure went considerably beyond the $700billion bailout that recently cleared Congress.
"I would order the secretary of the Treasury to immediately buyup the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at thenew value of those homes at the diminished value of those homes andlet people be able to make those payments and stay in theirhomes," he said.
"Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until westabilize home values in America, we're never going to startturning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy, and we'vegot to get some trust and confidence back to America."
McCain also said it was important to reform the giant benefitprograms such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the samebenefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees havetoday," he said, although he did not elaborate.