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McCain tangles with Obama over campaign cash

U.S. Republican presidential front-runner John McCain accused Democrat Barack Obama on Wednesday of rolling back on a pledge to limit himself to public money in November's U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain addresses members of the media as his wife Cindy McCain (L) listens during a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, February 20, 2008. (REUTERS/ John Sommers II)

Obama is raising as much as $1 million day, generating a big money advantage over both McCain and Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in what is expected to be the costliest U.S. presidential election ever.

Obama, an Illinois senator, pledged in February last year to accept public financing and its accompanying spending limit of an estimated $85 million in the general election race if he wins the nomination and his Republican opponent agreed to limits too.

"I committed to public financing," McCain told a news conference. "He committed to public financing. It is not more complicated than that ... I'll keep my word. I want him to keep his."

In recent weeks, as he has scored back-to-back wins in nominating contests, Obama has refused to recommit.

Obama's words have become a major campaign issue as he has steadily moved ahead of Clinton in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee in November.

Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, has criticized Obama as being all high-flown rhetoric with little substance while she is the candidate with plans and a record of action.

McCain, the Arizona senator who has all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination, picked up that theme in his Tuesday night speech celebrating victory in the Wisconsin contest. McCain did not even refer to Clinton in the speech.

In his news conference, McCain seized on a report in USA Today on Wednesday that quoted Obama as saying: "It would be presumptuous of me to say now that I'm locking myself into something when I don't even know if the other side is going to agree to it."

"That's Washington double speak," McCain said. "That's why the American people are so cynical about us in Washington."

The expected high cost of the White House campaign, which could easily surpass the nearly $300 million raised by President George W. Bush in 2004, has made it enticing to opt out of public financing and avoid its spending limits.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, estimates each nominee will need to raise at least $500 million to compete in November's election.

All campaigns face a midnight deadline to report their fundraising totals for January. McCain's campaign was nearly derailed last summer by lackluster fundraising.

The public financing system was created in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal revealed the extent of campaign financing shenanigans and ended with the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon.

McCain is the author of a prominent law that limits money in politics, angering some conservatives in his party who regard the law as a violation of free speech rights.

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