HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) - John McCain Wednesday praised his running mate, Sarah Palin as a "role model to women and reformers all over America" when challenged to defend her qualifications to be president.
"It's time that we had that breath of fresh air coming into our nation's capital and sweep out the old-boy network and cronyism that's been so much a part of it," the Arizona senator said of his running mate, the first-term governor of Alaska.
McCain was speaking at his third and final debate with Democrat Barack Obama before the November 4 presidential election.
Obama offered measured praise for Palin, whose qualifications have been widely scorned by Democrats.
"I think that obviously she's a capable politician," Obama said, adding that she had "excited the base in the Republican party."
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) - Took him longer than expected, but McCain did go the William Ayers route, but then segued into one of Obama's campaign trail lines. People don't care about William Ayers, they care about the economy.
(CNN) – Joe the Plumber was the star of the final presidential debate on Wednesday night. But who is he?
Watch: Obama meets 'Joe the plumber'
Last weekend, while Barack Obama was canvassing for support in the small town of Holland, Ohio, the Democratic nominee ran into a tall, bald man, since dubbed Joe the plumber. He asked Obama if he believed in the American Dream — he said he was about to buy a company that makes more than $250,000 a year and was concerned that the Democratic nominee would tax him more because of it.
Obama explained his tax plan in depth, saying it’s better to lower taxes for Americans who make less money, so that they could afford to buy from his business. John McCain attacked Obama for this exchange, saying the Illinois senator is trying to “spread the wealth around.”
“We're going to take Joe's money, give it to Senator Obama, and let him spread the wealth around. I want Joe the plumber to spread the wealth around,” McCain said. He added, “Why would you want to increase anybody's taxes right now? Why would you want to do that to anyone, anyone in America, when we have such a tough time?”
Joe the plumber was mentioned 11 times at the beginning of the debate, nine times by McCain and twice by Obama.
Watch: Voters sour on 'Joe the plumber' story
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) - Barack Obama distanced himself Wednesday from William Ayers, an education professor with a radical past to whom the Republicans have been aggressively linking him in recent weeks.
Watch: Obama on Ayers, ACORN
Obama said Ayers had committed "despicable acts" 40 years ago as a member of the Weather Underground, which took credit for a series of domestic bombings - but pointed out that he himself had been eight years old at the time.
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists" on the campaign trail.
The presidential contest has degenerated into an overlong season of American Idol. Obama is the finalist with the charm and charisma - the fan favorite. McCain can still win but, unlike Obama whom the media has put on the fast track to victory, his pathway forward is indeed a tough row to hoe. He has to overcome voter fatigue, anxiety about the economy and America's habit of tossing a party out of power after eight years.
Despite the gloomy outlook, McCain has been in tough spots before; and we know how that turned out. It's a wise political observer who never bets against him. The race, according to at least a few polls, is closing - not by much - and it will continue to tighten.
For McCain, tonight's debate will not be won by defining complex policy issues or a new grand idea. It doesn't work. His focus must be on the two C's: character and crises.
Character matters to McCain as an election issue and a defining issue of his life. He's yet to make the strong character argument, which outlines how he put his country first and Obama took a pass.
Secondly, he must convince undecided voters why he's best prepared to navigate this country through a crisis-filled environment, now and in the future.
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) - McCain is falling into the weeds by taking the bait and talking about the campaign ad squabbling.
Obama is making an effort to come across as Joe Cool, McCain is noticeably addled.
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) - Obama is trying to rise above the squabbling. The moderator invited it in asking them to address the attacks, but Obama would be wise not to be baited.
By keeping his eye on the ball and addressing the economy he looks more presidential.
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) – John McCain accused Barack Obama of spending "more money on negative ads than any campaign in history" as the two men met for their final debate before the November 4 presidential election.
Watch: McCain, Obama debate negative campaigning
Obama responded that McCain's campaign had been running exclusively negative ads, and that the public found McCain to be running a more negative campaign than Obama.
The McCain campaign put out a press release moments after the exchange saying the Obama campaign had spent more than $42 million on negative ads in the past month, while their own campaign had spent only $27 million on them. The release cited CMAG, a media analysis group which does work for CNN among others.
The Obama campaign shot back with an article from the liberal blog Talking Points Memo, citing CMAG's Evan Tracey as saying "virtually 100 percent" of McCain's ads were negative, while only about half of Obama's ads were.
McCain challenged Obama to repudiate comments by his supporter, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, that compared the atmosphere at some Republican rallies to that of the segregationist George Wallace in the 1960s.
Obama said he had rejected the remark.
HEMPSTEAD, New York (NY) - John McCain just passed up the chance to pick up on the mention of William Ayers.
HEMPSTEAD, New York (CNN) – Barack Obama promised Wednesday "to go through the federal budget page by page, line by line, and cut programs that don't work" as president, echoing a vow his rival John McCain has made repeatedly.
Watch: McCain and Obama debate their tax policies
McCain in turn promised an "across the board spending freeze" at the third and final debate between the two men.
He said he would balance the federal budget in four years, and went on to name specific programs including subsidies for ethanol when moderate Bob Schieffer pressed both candidates to identify specific budget cuts they would make.
He said he would fight for a line-item veto that would enable him to fight his bete noir, legislators' "earmarks" for spending on their pet projects.
Obama shot back - as he has done before - that earmarks, while undesirable, amounted to only a tiny percentage of the total federal budget.