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US Presidential Contenders Focus on Economic Issues

Concern about the troubled U.S. economy continues to dominate the U.S. presidential race. Presumptive presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama are busy debating taxes, foreign trade and health care. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has the latest on the campaign from Washington.

Americans are increasingly focused on the rising cost of fuel and food, making the economy the top issue in this year's presidential election campaign.

In Washington, the presumptive Republican Party nominee, Senator John McCain, told a group of small business owners that his plans to cut corporate taxes and keep in place President Bush's tax cuts for individuals would help stimulate the economy.

"No matter which of us wins in November, there will be change in Washington, " he said. "The question is, what kind of change? Will we go back to the policies of the 1960s and 1970s that failed? Or will we go forward?"

McCain also pointed to sharp differences over trade with his Democratic Party opponent, Senator Barack Obama.

Obama has proposed reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, a popular stand with workers who have lost their jobs in several industrialized states.

McCain says if elected, he will stand by U.S. trade commitments and will seek to expand free trade.

"I welcome the debate with the Democratic nominee," he said. "I want to break down foreign trade barriers, break them down, so that America's small businesses can compete abroad, not build them up."

Obama is also focused on the economy as he campaigns in several so-called battleground states, states that are expected to be competitive for both candidates in the general election campaign.

Obama defended his plans to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations while offering a middle class tax cut during a campaign stop in Missouri.

"And so, what we are trying to do is to restore some balance," he said. "Put some money in the pockets of working families, in the pockets of consumers. That actually, I believe, will be good for business because those folks will be spending money and that means that businesses will have products and services that they can sell."

Obama also continues to tie McCain to President Bush, arguing that electing the Arizona Republican in November would amount to a third Bush term in office.

Public opinion polls suggest economic concerns will benefit the Democrats in November. Analysts say that is why McCain is determined to also keep the focus on Iraq, national security and foreign policy where he believes he has an edge in experience over Obama.

The latest polls give Obama slight lead over McCain in some of the first head-to-head match-ups since Obama clinched the nomination over rival Democrat Hillary Clinton last week.