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WASHINGTON - The stumbling US economy is dominating the early days of the contest between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, pictured, with each candidate for the White House assuming what have historically been the default positions of their parties.
McCain wants to sustain tax cuts pushed through by President George Bush, while Obama is hoping to shift the burden more onto the shoulders of big business and the wealthy.
That has produced a lively debate in which McCain, the Arizona senator, has fought back against attacks by Obama, arguing that his Democratic opponent's trade and tax policies would only worsen the faltering US economy.
Obama has spent the first full week of his general election bid on the American economic crisis, mining a deep vein of anxiety among voters.
The most recent Gallup Poll shows 78percent of Americans hold a negative view of the nation's economy. Obama blames the Bush administration for the flagging economy and claims McCain would promote similar policies.
The sharp economic downturn has given Obama a particularly potent political whip in his battle against McCain, especially given that the Iraq war - once expected to be the focus of the 2008 race - is no longer the most pressing issue in the minds of many voters.
Given those realities, Obama is shifting attention to the economy and away from national security and foreign policy - issues where McCain feels stronger given his more than 20 years of experience in the senate.
Voter fears of falling living standards were compounded in recent days by news that unemployment jumped to 5,5percent last month even as the nationwide price of petrol continued to rise, surging past R32 a gallon for the first time.
The price is still low for Europeans and others, but it is a shock for Americans used to cheap gas.
Yesterday, McCain said the record high petrol prices probably would not drop before the November election. - Sapa-AP