COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Lagging in the polls, Republican presidential candidate John McCain unleashed a blistering attack Monday on his Democratic rival, saying the race comes down to a simple question: "Country first or Obama first?"
In his first public appearance since Friday night's debate, McCain said Democrat Barack Obama advocates tax-and-spend policies that "will deepen our recession," and voted against funding for equipment needed by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"That is not putting the men and women of our military first," he said.
McCain stressed his own record of opposing Republicans on key issues, and said, "When it comes time to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties to get things done for the American people - my opponent can't name a single occasion in which he fought against his party's leadership to get something done for the country. That is not putting the interests of the country first."
The Arizona senator spoke at a joint rally with running mate Sarah Palin, who said she is looking forward to this Thursday's debate with Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
"I've been hearing his speeches since I was in the second grade," the 44-year-old Alaska governor said of her counterpart, who is 65 and a veteran of more than 35 years in the Senate.
The speech was McCain's first outside Washington since he announced abruptly last week he was suspending his campaign to concentrate on helping Congress agree on a bailout for the troubled financial industry. He drew heated criticism from Democrats who accused him of nearly derailing negotiations that were headed for success, and even some Republicans conceded privately he appeared impetuous and had not helped his own cause.
Recent polls also suggest Obama has regained a lead he held in the race before the Republican National Convention, where McCain's choice of Palin energized conservatives and led to a short-term surge in his poll ratings.