NASHVILLE - John McCain hammered away at unruffled front-runner Barack Obama in Tuesday's second presidential debate but failed to land the cutting blow likely to revive his sliding poll numbers.
The under-pressure Republican White House hopeful came armed with an ambitious $300billion surprise plan to buy up the bad American mortgages that helped tip the global economy into crisis.
The Obama camp later claimed the proposal was part of the rescue plan signed into law late last week and that "it was Obama, not McCain, who called for this move two weeks ago".
The initiative, an apparent bid by McCain to twist Obama's advantage on the economy in his favour, made few ripples during a sometimes muted debate that got most heated in clashes on the financial crisis, Pakistan and Iraq.
McCain trails Democrat Obama by widening margins in national polls and in battleground states with time running out before the November 4 election.
Snap polls by US TV networks awarded the debate, the second of a trio of presidential clashes, to Obama, who seemed as comfortable as his rival in the "town-hall" format which McCain loves.
After days of nasty campaign trail rhetoric, the two senators strolled onto the stage in Nashville, Tennessee, smiling broadly, and shook hands, but tension soon bubbled to the surface.
A CNN national poll after the debate found that 54percent of those asked thought Obama won and 30percent said McCain was victorious. - Sapa-AFP