CBNNews.com - Presidential candidate John McCain kept rival Barack Obama on the defense, Wednesday night, blasting him over his tax plans, his unexplained political relationships, and his position on abortion in the final debate of this election season.
The 90 minute event at New York's Hofstra University delved into a host of domestic issues, including the candidates' proposals on how to fix the country's economic crisis.
For more insight into who won last night, click play to watch Dr. Charles Dunn, with Regent University.
With Obama leading in the polls less than three weeks from Election Day, McCain put on a feisty performance in an effort to bring fresh momentum to his lagging campaign. Dour economic headlines in recent weeks have hurt McCain's popularity, while propelling his rival's surge in the polls.
Spreading the Wealth
In the opening segment, McCain accused Obama of seeking to raise taxes in order to "spread the wealth around."
Those words were used by Obama earlier this week when a plumber, Joe Wurzelbacher from Ohio, confronted the senator on his tax plan, saying it would hurt him because he was considering buying a small business.
"It's not that I want to punish your success," Obama explained to him then. "I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too. And I think that when we spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."
"Nobody likes taxes," Obama said in the candidate's exchange on taxes. "But ultimately we've got to pay for the core investments."
"If nobody likes taxes, let's not raise anybody's, OK?" McCain shot back.
Ayers, ACORN Connection
McCain also confronted Obama on his connection to domestic terrorist William Ayers and the liberal group ACORN, accused of violating federal law in registering voters.
"We need to know the full extent of your relationship. All of these things need to be examined," McCain said.
As he and campaign surrogates have said, Obama explained that he was only 8-years old in the 1960s when Ayers committed his terrorist activity and had only served on a board with him years later, as did even some Republicans.
But it has been widely reported Ayers also hosted a meet-the-candidate event for Obama in an Illinois race years ago, a fact that Obama did not mention during the debate.
"The fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Senator McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me," Obama parried.
Bush Administration Connection
During an exchange on reducing the federal budget, Obama again tried to pin McCain to the economic policies of the Bush administration.
"Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago," McCain retorted.
But Obama brushed aside McCain's maverick claim.
"If I've occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people - on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities - you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush," he said.
But McCain refused to cede any ground to his rival on that point, insisting later the he has resisted the Bush administration and his party on many instances and "had the scars to prove it."
Abortion, Supreme Court Nominees
As the discussion turned toward the candidate's position on Roe v. Wade, McCain blasted Obama for aligning himself with "the extreme aspect of the pro-abortion movement in America."
The Arizona senator said Obama had voted "present" while in the Illinois Legislature on a measure to ban one type of procedure late in a woman's pregnancy.
"I don't know how you can vote 'present' on an issue like that," McCain questioned.
Obama defended his vote, saying the bill would have undermined Roe v. Wade. He said it had also been opposed by the Illinois Medical Society.
"I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life, and this did not contain that exception," he added.
McCain, in turn, sarcastically praised Obama for his "eloquence."
"He's for the 'health for the mother.'" McCain replied. "You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything."
On whether their abortion views would influence their choice of Supreme Court nominees, McCain refused to use it as a litmus test but charged Obama with voting against candidates who did not meet his ideology.
"The Senator voted against Justices Alito and Roberts on the grounds that they didn't meet his ideological stance," McCain said.
Obama pivoted, focusing instead on finding common ground on preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing options for adoption, and "helping single mothers if they choose to keep the baby."
Seeking to have the last word on the issue, McCain said that it was a given for the GOP that abortion needs to be reduced.
"But that does not mean we will cease to work to protect the unborn." McCain said.
The candidates also volleyed on the tone of each campaign, which many charge has sunk to nastier levels in recent years. McCain has taken heat over comments from some rally supporters for inciting hate.
The fact is, Obama charged, "100 percent of your ads have been negative."
"Not true," McCain retorted.
"It absolutely is true," Obama continued.
An Associated Press fact check of Obama's statements show they are somewhat misleading.
It is true that McCain is currently running all negative ads; but, a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that he has run a number of positive ads during the campaign.
The candidates also sparred over a host of other domestic issues, including health care, energy independence, and free trade before ending the 90 minute debate.
An Uphill Climb
While McCain was clearly the aggressor during the debate, he now heads out on the campaign trail trailing in every single national poll.
He's taken up the role as underdog, as a fighter and indeed his climb these last three weeks will require every ounce of energy he has.
Moderator Bob Schiefer closed with what he said were his mother's words.
"Go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong."