After spending much of the early part of his campaign emphasizing national security, John McCain used a good chunk of his acceptance speech Thursday night to draw stark contrasts with his opponent on economic policy and emphasize his concern for Americans struggling in a weak economy.
At times understated and at times vehement, McCain set out a simple creed to, as he put it, get the Republican party “back to basics” after it had lost its way in Washington: “We believe in low taxes; spending discipline, and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor.”
After three days of sharp partisan attacks from supporters during the convention, he took measured swipes at Obama's policies: "My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them," McCain said. "My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor."
Among his economic commitments: doubling the child tax exemption to $7,000, "getting rid of failed programs" to reduce government spending, and reforming unemployment insurance, a program he decried as "designed for the economy of the 1950s."
To help workers displaced from jobs "that won't come back," he promised to "help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower paid one while they receive retraining..." He derided Obama's jobs proposal as promising "to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy."
And, of course, he hit hard on energy policy, an area in which McCain's advisers believe he has an edge.
A promise to drill for oil offshore drew a chant of "drill, baby, drill" from the crowd (though much of the Florida delegation reportedly sat out a similar chat during Sarah Palin's speech). He pledged to build nuclear plants, "develop clean-coal technology" and increase the use of "wind, tide, solar and natural gas" for energy, saying the initiative would be "the most ambitious national project in decades," and one that "will create millions of new jobs, many in industries that will be the engine of our future prosperity; jobs that will be there when your children enter the workforce."
One surprising note came when, promising to fight for ordinary Americans and naming families he has presumably encountered on the trail, he started with a Michigan couple that had to take on extra jobs -- not because they lost their home, but because, in part, they "lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market."
So will it be enough to move more voters into his camp? McCain and Obama have each ramped up the rhetoric aimed at convincing struggling working and lower-middle class Americans that he, not his rival, can best improve their lives. Both know those voters will decide the election, and neither candidate has yet made the sale. But after sharply contrasting speeches laying out sharply contrasting visions of how to get the economy working again, they've laid the foundation for the tough final fight ahead.