Near the end of the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in New York, McCain dueled with Obama over the use of school vouchers. McCain wants to emphasize vouchers, and Obama is skeptical of them. After Obama talked about the use of vouchers in Washington, D.C., McCain said dismissively, "I'm surprised that you didn't pay more attention to this."
McCain, the Republican nominee and a longtime senator from Arizona, quickly established a combative tone as he tried to force Obama into a major error. Obama, the Democratic nominee and a freshman senator from Illinois, attempted to seem reassuring and steady as he parried McCain's attacks and launched a few of his own.
McCain resurrected his criticism of Obama for associating with former antiwar radical William Ayers, who is now an educator in Chicago. Obama said, "Mr. Ayers is not involved in this campaign, he has never been involved in my campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House."
Both men repeatedly referred to an incident this week in which an Ohio plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher challenged Obama, complaining that the candidate wanted to raise his taxes. McCain kept coming back to "Joe the plumber" and said he would do more to improve Joe's life. Obama also chimed in, saying his policies would be superior. The two returned to Joe the plumber so often that eventually Schieffer, the debate moderator, said it was time to move on.