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early and often

McCain or Obama: Who’s Taking the Edge in the Wall Street Crisis?

Not pictured: right field.

The titanic Wall Street mess has worried voters looking to their presidential candidates for answers. Preferably, clear, easy-to-understand answers that don't involve a lot of financial jibber-jabber. And though Barack Obama and John McCain did their best to break through, it seems that so far, neither has pulled ahead on the issue. But the financial crisis presents a big opportunity for both candidates: first, to leave behind the superficial squabbling, faux outrage, and slander that have characterized the campaign for the past couple of weeks, and second, to take the lead on the number one issue this election year: the economy. Most likely, neither candidate really knows exactly what the hell is going on, or what can be done to fix it. But while nobody profits from the trouble on Wall Street, it's an issue that at least two guys, Obama and McCain, can try to benefit from politically.

• Massimo Calabresi thinks "Obama should have had a decided advantage on the trail" since the Wall Street "crisis is occurring on the Republicans' watch and even staunchly anti-regulatory observers blame lax federal controls for much of the problem." But yesterday McCain was able "to hold his own." Ultimately, the spin from both campaigns will affect voters little compared to "the reality of closing banks, dwindling retirement accounts and a sputtering economy." [Time]

• Andrew Romano calls the Wall Street crisis "a huge opportunity" for Obama, "a chance not only to be heard addressing an issue that matters, but also to pivot away from a losing message to one that could actually win him the election." Instead of mounting a likely unsuccessful attack strategy against McCain's similarities to President Bush, Obama can have a "conversation about why his economic values trump McCain's." [Stumper/Newsweek]

• John Dickerson says that in order for "Obama to take advantage of this moment, he has to convince voters he's going to change their lives," not simply "paint McCain as out of touch." Obama also risks becoming too gloomy if he portrays the economy as weak. Additionally, while McCain's record on the turmoil at hand is very thin, Obama's policies are pretty much unknown. [Slate]

• James Pethokoukis reasons that McCain won't suffer in the polls from the Wall Street crisis because he's made "himself the nominee of the McCain Party rather than the Republican Party," it's tough to place blame on President Bush anyway, and "no candidate has a simple answer about what to do next." [Capital Commerce/U.S. News]

• Chris Cillizza collected suggestions from party insiders for what "their party's candidate" should "do in the short term to stake their claim to this critical issue." For Obama, these suggestions include taking a two-day Ohio tour, spending a night at home with a family facing foreclosure, and doing more town halls. For McCain, ideas include meeting with heads of regional banks, going on a listening tour of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and naming his future Treasury secretary in a speech. [Fix/WP]

• Matt Yglesias notes that listening to McCain, you might "think that he and Barack Obama basically have similar views — out of control greed, regulators asleep at the switch, need to do better — but he’s a grizzled veteran whereas Obama just showed up yesterday." [Think Progress]

• Jackie Calmes writes that McCain has "consistently characterized himself as fundamentally a deregulator and he has no history prior to the presidential campaign of advocating steps to tighten standards on investment firms." His call for more regulation yesterday "suggests how the pendulum has swung to cast government regulation in a more favorable political light ... and how he is scrambling to adjust." [NYT]

• Karen Tumulty believes "that the challenge going forward is a bit trickier for McCain." He has a record as a deregulator and "deregulation, of course, is one of the reasons we have a crisis on our hands." [Swampland/Time]

• John B. Judis says that so far, Americans are not getting the answers they want from either candidate. But this is "favorable political terrain for Democrats, because the root of the crisis was the lack of government regulation." [Plank/New Republic]

• David Corn claims that "[i]f McCain wants to hold someone accountable for the failure in transparency and accountability that led to the current calamity, he should turn to his good friend and adviser, Phil Gramm," whose legislation "essentially removed newfangled financial products called swaps from any regulation." [Mother Jones]

• Chuck Todd and friends also feel that "Obama appears to benefit at least in the short term, since we’re talking about the issues, particularly one that traditionally favors Democrats." Plus, "McCain didn’t help himself when he said the “fundamentals of our economy are strong.” But in order to take advantage, might Obama need to unleash Bill Clinton? [First Read/MSNBC]

• David Frum tells McCain to "[l]et the Federal Reserve assure Americans that the economy is 'fundamentally sound.'" Instead, McCain should "hammer" Obama "as the man who will make things worse because of his extreme ideas, his tax-raising, and his party's way-too-close relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." [National Review]

• Dan Balz and Robert Barnes writes that despite this big economic test, neither candidate "has truly won the confidence of voters, and yesterday neither offered fresh ideas about how to deal with what has become a mess of huge proportions." [WP]

• Jonah Goldberg contends that instead of making this an issue about the economy, as Obama wants, "McCain's instinct is to make this about leadership in a crisis. That's the right instinct." While Obama "sees nothing wrong with screaming that the sky is falling during a stock-market meltdown in order to score political points ... McCain's impulse was to argue for calm at the moment when it is needed." [Corner/National Review]

Related: Bloody Monday

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

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Photo: Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images