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Obama, McCain, and the financial crisis

John McCain has the harder job of countering his support of Bush and his push for deregulation.

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“McCain has to hope – and it’s not entirely out of the question – that he can take his image as a guy who can help you navigate through a crisis and make that apply to economic conditions,” says Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “But when you look objectively at who he has relied on for economic advice – it’s CEOs like Carly Fiorina [former head of Hewlett Packard] and Meg Whitman [formerly of eBay], who are unequipped to deal with a crisis involving financial institutions, along with Phil Gramm, who he has distanced himself from.”

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Former Senator Gramm was a key author of a 1999 financial deregulation law that is now being blamed for the excesses that brought Wall Street to the point of collapse. Gramm took grief earlier this year for saying that Americans had “sort of become a nation of whiners” over the economy.

For Obama’s part, the task is to look calm and presidential, and to stand near major economic eminences as often as possible. The recent photo op of Obama standing next to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and Laura Tyson, former chair of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, has done as much as anything to project the sense that, if elected, an Obama administration would put the economy in battle-tested hands.

“I would try to superglue Bob Rubin to my side for the next six weeks, if I were him,” says Mr. Ornstein.

Aside from adopting a more populist tone in recent days, McCain has also sought to reassert his image as a maverick. In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” McCain said he would appoint Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general of New York State, to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. McCain also pledged to remove the political affairs office from the White House, a swipe at Bush and his political guru, Karl Rove, who prided themselves on running a permanent campaign from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Overall, the average of major polls shows Obama up by two percentage points, a gain from the postconvention period when McCain led by about the same amount. But two points is within the margin of error. A look at key swing states, many of which are in a dead heat, confirms that this race could go down to the wire, despite Obama’s advantages as the Democrat.