Obama rakes in high approval ratings amid Wall Street crisis

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Barack Obama, casting himself as the defender of Main Street in the face of the folly and greed of Wall Street, is drawing ahead of John McCain in the race for the White House, according to the latest opinion polls.

By Harvey Morris and Andrew Ward in Washington

As the two candidates headed towards their crucial first presidential television debate on Friday and early voting commenced in some states, a weekend Gallup Poll showed Mr Obama with 50 per cent support to Mr McCain’s 44.

At campaign events on Sunday, both candidates insisted that ordinary taxpayers should not be forgotten in a $700bn government bail-out plan to prop up US financial institutions.

“As of now, the Bush administration has only offered a concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan,” Mr Obama said. “In return for their support, the American people must be assured that the deal reflects the basic principles of transparency, fairness and reform.”

Mr McCain offered similar rhetoric, insisting that the bail-out must be accompanied by “comprehensive reform of the broken institutions that allowed this crisis to become a grave threat to our economy”.

Mr Obama charged his opponent with hypocrisy for advocating tougher regulation of Wall Street after spending much of his career championing the deregulation that many critics blame for the crisis.

He told a rally: “There’s only one candidate who’s called himself ‘fundamentally a deregulator’ when deregulation is part of the problem.”

The candidates’ poll showings in recent weeks have proved almost as volatile as the markets. Mr McCain’s popularity bounced after a successful Republican convention and his nomination of Sarah Palin as running mate. But by this weekend the “Palin factor” appeared to have largely evaporated as voters refocused on the financial crisis.

An average of recent polls puts Mr Obama ahead by about 2 percentage points, with highly competitive races in several battleground states to come.

Mr McCain spent most of last week trying to overcome his fumbled initial response to the crisis, including his widely mocked claim that the US economic fundamentals were strong.

Early and absentee voting is already underway in a handful of states, including the key battleground of Virginia, six weeks before polling day. About a third of voters are expected to cast ballots before November 4.

The Financial Times

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