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McCain, Obama square off in Mississippi

Republican Presidential Nominee Sen. John McCain (AZ) and Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. Barack Obama (IL) shake hands after the first presidential debate, moderated by journalist Jim Lehrer, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, on September 26, 2008. The debate went on despite McCain's call for postponement in the face of the current economic crises. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg)
Republican Presidential Nominee Sen. John McCain (AZ) and Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. Barack Obama (IL) shake hands after the first presidential debate, moderated by journalist Jim Lehrer, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, on September 26, 2008. The debate went on despite McCain's call for postponement in the face of the current economic crises. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg) | License Photo

OXFORD, Miss., Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Barack Obama and John McCain held their first presidential debate in Oxford, Miss., Friday night under the shadow of tense bailout negotiations in Washington.

The theme of the debate, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, was supposed to have been foreign affairs and national security, but the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial sector dominated a large portion of the event.

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Lehrer said the bailout could be considered part of the national security arena, and the first question in the debate dealt with the bailout.

Obama said the federal government must "move swiftly and we have to move wisely." He said any agreement must allow for the possibility of taxpayers getting back the public funds that are committed to a bailout and he said none of the funds should go to "pad CEO accounts or to promote golden parachutes."

McCain said there should be "no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis."

"And we're not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street, we're talking about failures on Main Street and people who will lose their jobs and their credits and their homes if we don't fix the greatest fiscal crisis probably in -- certainly in our time, and I've been around a little while."

McCain said: "We are finally seeing Republicans and Democrats sitting down and negotiating together and coming up with a package. This package has transparency in it, it has to have accountability and oversight."

McCain suggested federal spending might be controlled with a "spending freeze on everything but defense, veterans affairs and entitlement" programs, but Obama called that "using a hatchet where you need a scalpel."

The Iraq War dominated much of the foreign policy conversation, with familiar observations from both candidates -- McCain criticizing Obama for opposing the 2007 troop surge and Obama caling the war a mistake.

"This strategy has succeeded and we are winning in Iraq," McCain said, "and we will come home with victory and with honor."

"I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place," Obama said.

The candidates sparred on the question of talking with leaders of Iran and other U.S. adversaries, and McCain said Obama "has said that he would announce military strikes into Pakistan."

"We've got to get the support of the people of Pakistan," he said. "You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things … you work with the Pakistani government."

"Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan," Obama responded. "Here's what I said, and if John wants to disagree with this he can let me know -- that if the United States has al-Qaida, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out."

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