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Wall Street Crisis: Which Candidate "Benefits"?

Monday, 15 Sep 2008 | 3:59 PM ET

For the past year the ongoing crisis in the housing and credit markets has set a gloomy backdrop for the 2008 presidential race, fueling voters' anxieties about the economy and desire for change.

Now the meltdown on Wall Street threatens to deepen those anxieties--and provide john McCain and Barack Obama with the campaign equivalent of what Hillary Clinton once described as the 3 am phone call that presidents receive.

It’s not yet clear who might benefit, but increased attention to economic troubles more closely fits Obama's campaign strategy.

As the democratic candidate seeking to replace on unpopular Republican president, Obama has always been better positioned than McCain to capitalize on desire for change. And with voters calling the economy their top priority, Obama has made the issue his central theme.

But by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain managed to shift attention back to cultural issues over the past two week. And that helped him rise in the polls.

Political Capital: Wall Street
CNBC's John Harwood discusses Lehman, AIG, Merrill and the reaction of the presidential candidates.

With the focus back on the economy today, McCain invoked the crisis on Wall Street as an argument for the "reforms" that he says the republican ticket will bring to Washington.

With a Republican in the white house how, McCain acknowledge that's not an easy argument. Economic policy has never been McCain’s specialty--to judge from her interview on the subject with ABC's Charlie Gibson last week, it may not be Palin's either.

WALL STREET IN CRISIS - A CNBC SPECIAL REPORT
WALL STREET IN CRISIS - A CNBC SPECIAL REPORT

But Obama hasn't yet seized control of the economic debate. Though polls show Americans favor him over McCain on the issue, his advantage lately has narrowed. Moreover, polls show a plurality of Americans consider Obama a riskier choice for president than McCain.

Obama will now try to convince voters the biggest risk lies in McCain’s support for bush's principal economic policies, most conspicuously on taxes. In particular he's seizing on McCain’s comment today that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

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