Economic Woes For Both Presidential Contenders

By Karin Caifa in Washington

After a week of tussling over the politics of patriotism, Monday kicked off a week-long battle between John McCain and Barack Obama on the economy. And while the candidates pointed out their strengths on the issue during various events today, both have their weaknesses.

For John McCain, the spotlight on the economy creates three problems. One, it takes attention away from his signature issue —  one where Democrats are generally perceived as lightweights – national security and terrorism. Two, it allows the Democrats to highlight greater parallels between McCain’s policies and the economic policies of the Bush administration, which opponents brand as failed. Three, it calls to mind a comment McCain made in December 2007, when he told reporters, “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.”

McCain’s advocacy of free trade — which he promoted during a trip to Colombia and Mexico last week — could also hurt him, as crucial general election states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have watched their manufacturing jobs goes overseas.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Obama has an advantage on the issue. Remember that he struggled to attract the support of white, working-class voters in the Democratic primaries in those same Rust Belt states. McCain and the Republicans have been quick to pounce on Obama’s economic proposals, arguing they’ll lead to tax hikes. “Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won’t. I will cut them where I can,” McCain told an audience in Denver this afternoon. “Jobs are the most important thing our economy creates. When you raise taxes in a bad economy you eliminate jobs. I won’t let that happen.”

Obama has said he would repeal the Bush tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000, but promises to provide relief to the middle and working classes.

Over the course of this week, McCain will take his economic road show to Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  These are, not coincidentally, November battlegrounds. Obama, however, takes a bolder approach, campaigning in states that have traditionally gone to Republicans in the general election. He was slated to appear in North Carolina this afternoon before plane repairs forced a layover in St. Louis. Virginia and Georgia are also on the agenda this week.

Karin Caifa is a political producer with CNN who contributes to this blog via CNN’s Running Mates.

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