Reno: The financial crisis convulsing Congress, Wall Street and the economy at large is a dramatic real-time test of presidential caliber - and Barack Obama appears to be besting John McCain.
As the House of Representatives threw out an enormous bailout bill on Monday, the latest polls showed the Democrat Obama building a dominant lead over his Republican rival in the 4 November election.
“Pretty clearly if the question (for voters) is the economy, the answer is Obama,” argued William Galston, a former White House adviser who analyses presidential politics at Washington’s Brookings Institution.
“Every day spent talking about any aspect of the economy is a good day for Senator Obama, and a bad day for Senator McCain,” he said.
From the campaign trail, the two rivals scrambled to respond after the government’s $700 billion economic intervention was shot down by rebel Republicans and a smaller number of Democrats.
Minutes after the House vote, Obama told voters in Colorado: “There’s going to be some bumps, and trials and tribulations, and ups and downs, before we get this rescue package done.”
Aides to both White House candidates said they would return to Washington when and if the Senate takes up the bill.
But uncertainty about the way forward sparked a bloodbath on global bourses, with an astonishing $1.2 trillion wiped off New York’s market value alone.
“One of my messages I have to Congress is, get this done. Democrats, Republicans, step up to the plate and get it done,” Obama said.
While the Democrat appealed for calm from panicked investors, McCain a couple of hours later also urged Congress to get back to work on the bailout.
“Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process,” he told reporters, before adding: “Now is not the time to fix the blame. It’s time to fix the problem.”
Thus played out the rivals’ signature approaches of the past fortnight - Obama attempting to exude a level-headed tone of calm under fire, McCain mixing it up with an action-man style befitting the “maverick” former navy pilot.
Obama aides now routinely use the word “erratic” to describe the 72-year-old McCain’s handling of the financial crisis.
Obama, 47, believes meanwhile that his “no drama” approach will resonate with voters hungering for a more considered mode of leadership after eight years of President George W Bush.
The contrast was stark at Friday’s first presidential debate, with McCain on non-stop attack as he battled to overcome his polling deficit, and Obama trying to engage with his opponent.
New polls on Monday took account of McCain’s campaign suspension, which Democrats said never actually happened, the frantic negotiations in Congress and the first debate in Mississippi.
Gallup’s latest tracking poll had Obama on 50% to 42% for McCain. Rasmussen also had Obama on 50%, but McCain doing better on 45%.
In its own new poll, the Los Angeles Times said “Obama has made strides in convincing Americans that he can handle the toughest challenges facing the country, including the financial meltdown and international crises.”
Overall, Obama led McCain by 49% to 44% in the LA Times poll, which said also that 46% of debate-watchers believed the Democrat was more “presidential,” compared with 33% for the Republican.
For many commentators, McCain’s surprise dash to Washington last week was an impetuous action whose risks are now evident after the emergency bill failed in the House of Representatives.