JUDY WOODRUFF: At a town hall meeting in Dover, New Hampshire, this afternoon, a supporter asked Barack Obama why he hadn’t responded more forcefully to recent attacks from the McCain campaign.
MAN: So, for those of us that have given you our support and, more importantly, our money, when and how are you going to start fighting back against attack ads and the smear campaign?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), Presidential Nominee: Look, I just have a different philosophy. And that is that I’m going to respond with the truth.
I’m going to respond with the truth. So…
I know there are a lot of Democrats and some independents and some Republicans who really want change who start getting nervous, because they have seen this movie before. Every four years, right, you have ads that are based — are just fabricated. They’re just made up, and…
BARACK OBAMA: Lies, that’s the word I was looking for.
And, so, people start worrying.
Here is what I can guarantee you, that we are going to be hitting back hard. We have been hitting back hard, but we’re hitting back on the issues that matter to families. We’re hitting back — I’m not going to — I’m not going to start making up lies about John McCain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama team announced that it will respond with speed and ferocity to attacks leveled by the McCain camp.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), Presidential Nominee: I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise your taxes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, that meant correcting the record on taxes.
BARACK OBAMA: I just to want to make this absolutely clear. My plan altogether is a net tax cut. My plan will cut taxes to a smaller share of the economy than they were under President Reagan. Under my plan, income taxes for typical American families will be the lowest that they have been in more than half-a-century.
Hitting back without offending
JUDY WOODRUFF: Part of the Obama strategy also includes a pair of new television ads, one of which accuses the Republican nominee of being out of touch.
NARRATOR: 1982: John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an e-mail, still doesn't understand the economy, and favors $200 billion in new tax cuts for corporations, but almost nothing for the middle class.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, McCain has proposed repealing the alternative minimum tax, which mainly hits the middle class.
In contrast, the Obama campaign has released another ad that has Obama speaking directly to the camera, saying, his campaign offers real change.
BARACK OBAMA: We have heard a lot of talk about change this year. The question is, change to what? To me, change is a government that doesn't let banks and oil companies rip off the American people. Change is when we finally fix health care, instead of just talking about it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The more combative tone comes just a day after both nominees took a break from campaigning to honor the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
They took part in a public service forum at Columbia University last night, moderated by TIME magazine editor Richard Stengel and me.
I asked McCain about attacks by his running mate, Sarah Palin, repeatedly belittling Obama's experience as a community organizer.
You haven't taken that tone. So I guess my question is, are you saying to others in your campaign and your supporters that that's not the kind of language you want to hear?
JOHN MCCAIN: Look, Governor Palin was responding to the criticism of her inexperience in her job as a mayor in a small town. That's what she was responding to.
Of course I respect community organizers. Of course I respect people who serve their community. And Senator Obama's record there is outstanding.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Less significant than the work of a small-town mayor?
JOHN MCCAIN: I think a small-town mayor has very great responsibilities. They have a responsibility for the budget. They have hiring and firing of people. They have great responsibilities. They have to stand for election. I admire mayors.
I'm -- listen, mayors have the toughest job, I think, in America. It's easy for me to go to Washington and, frankly, be somewhat divorced from the day-to-day challenges people have.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The reverse question was later asked of Obama, about questions deriding Palin's experience as a small-town mayor.
RICHARD STENGEL, Managing Editor, TIME: Did the Democrats in return belittle being a small-town mayor? Was she being unfair or was it hypocritical because Republicans actually say, hey, what people do in their private life is more important than public service?
BARACK OBAMA: Well, listen, we had an awful lot of small-town mayors at the Democratic Convention, I assure you. I meet them all the time. And I have -- the mayors have some of the toughest jobs in the country, because that's where the rubber hits the road. We yak in the Senate. They actually have to fill potholes and trim trees and make sure the garbage is taken away.
So, I was surprised by the several remarks around community organizing and belittling it.
Palin's appearance on ABC
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Welcome to "World News" from Fairbanks, Alaska.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Minutes before last night's forum kicked off, ABC News aired an interview with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, her first since being named the Republican vice presidential nominee two weeks ago.
Palin struggled through some foreign policy questions.
CHARLES GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), Vice Presidential Nominee: In what respect, Charlie?
CHARLES GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you interpret it to be?
SARAH PALIN: His world view?
CHARLES GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, annunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq War.
SARAH PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ABC's Charles Gibson pushed Palin to clarify her understanding of global warming.
CHARLES GIBSON: Do you still believe that global warming is not manmade?
PALIN: I believe that man's activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change.
CHARLES GIBSON: But it's a critical point as to whether or not this is manmade. He says it is. You have said in the past it's not.
SARAH PALIN: The debate on that even really has evolved into, OK, here's where we are now. Scientists do show us that there are changes in climate. Things are getting warmer. Now, what do we do about it? And John McCain and I are going to be working on what we do about it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Since joining the Republican ticket, Palin has enlivened the McCain campaign. Just today, a poll by the Associated Press had him edging out Obama by four points. Supporters have flocked to their events.
SARAH PALIN: I told Congress thanks but no thanks to that bridge to nowhere, said, if our state wanted to build a bridge, we would, ourselves.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But that quip, and others, have been dismissed by her opponents and major newspapers as untrue. They reported she did in fact support the bridge plan before it fell apart.
Palin, relatively unknown before she entered the race, has been the subject of media scrutiny and criticism from their Democratic opponents for the claim that they are the choice for change.
Ads stretch the truth
BARACK OBAMA: I guess his whole angle is, watch out, George Bush. Except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy, and Karl Rove-style politics, we are really going to shake things up in Washington.
BARACK OBAMA: That's not change.
You can put lipstick on a pigâ?¦
it's still a pig.
JUDY WOODRUFF: McCain aides labeled those words from Obama offensive and disgraceful, claiming it was a crack about Palin, who has joked about lipstick and hockey moms.
The McCain campaign released television ads this week defending Palin.
NARRATOR: He was the world's biggest celebrity, but his star's fading. So, they lashed out at Sarah Palin, dismissed her as good-looking.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The McCain campaign also stretched the truth in its new ad about education released on Sunday.
NARRATOR: Obama's one accomplishment? Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners. Learning about sex before learning to read?
JUDY WOODRUFF: In point of fact, Obama supported a law to educate children on the dangers of sexual predators.
Today, McCain was asked about his ads when he appeared on ABC's "The View."
Joy Behar, Co-Host, "The View": We know that those two ads are untrue. They are lies. And, yet, you, at the end of it, say, I approve these messages. Do you really approve them?
JOHN MCCAIN: Actually, they are not lies. And have you have seen some of the ads that are running against me?
BARBARA WALTERS, Co-Host, "The View": By the way, you, yourself, said the same thing about putting lipstick on a pig. You, yourself, used the same expression.
JOHN MCCAIN: When I was talking about a health care plan.
BARBARA WALTERS: Yes, but he talked about change. He wasn't talking about Sarah Palin.
JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Obama chooses his words very carefully. OK? He shouldn't have said it. He shouldn't have said it. He chooses his words very carefully. And this is a tough campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With 53 days to go until the election, there are sure to be more attack ads. Already, advertising spending is more than double what it was in the last presidential campaign.