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McCain drifts away from a legacy of deregulation

  • Story Highlights
  • While campaigning, McCain takes more populist stance on the economy
  • Arizona Republican has pushed for deregulation for over two decades
  • GOP presidential nominee expressing doubts about $700 billion bailout proposal
  • McCain wants limits on CEO pay of companies that would take bailout
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(CNN) -- Sen. John McCain has spent much of his two decades in Congress pushing deregulation, but the Republican presidential nominee is continuing his election year migration toward more government control of the economy as the nation faces one of its greatest financial crises since the Great Depression.

"I want the people in Ohio here to know that I have not forgotten the economy on Main Street," McCain said during a campaign stop in Strongsville, Ohio, on Tuesday. "Not Wall Street, not Washington, D.C., but Main Street is the focus of our attention and our efforts."

McCain's latest populist message comes as Congress weighs a $700 billion bailout plan to prop up struggling financial firms beset by bad mortgages and head off a severe credit crunch.

McCain expressed doubts about the bailout during a campaign stop in Media, Pennsylvania, on Monday, in an attempt to help distance himself from the unpopular president.

"We need to put our country first and focus what's best for Main Street. It's the excess and greed of Washington and Wall Street that got us in this situation to start with," the Arizona Republican said. Video Watch McCain's bailout plan »

McCain's populist bent has made some fellow Republicans unhappy, but McCain's advisers say that is fine by them.

With the economic crisis dominating, McCain has one overriding political objective right now: connecting with anxious and angry voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio and convincing them he understands the financial pressures they face. Video Watch the nominees' aides debate the economy »

A McCain aide told CNN Monday night that the senator won't decide how he will vote until he sees the completed package being negotiated between the administration and Congress.

Despite McCain saying he was "uncomfortable" with the bailout plan on the campaign trail, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson assured the Senate Democratic leadership that McCain would be "fine" with the measure and will vote for the bailout, a Democratic congressional leadership source told CNN.

Senate Democrats are worried that other Senate Republicans would vote against the bailout if McCain decided to oppose the measure, the source said. Video Watch how the candidates are handling the crisis »

If Republicans do not back the bailout, it would force more Democrats to vote for the politically unpopular proposal, which President Bush and his administration says is desperately needed to end the financial crisis.

As part of his populist message, McCain is siding with Democrats in demanding a cap in compensation for CEOs for companies that participate in the government rescue to no more than $400,000 -- the amount the president makes.

"We can't have taxpayers footing the bill for bloated golden parachutes," McCain said. "The senior executives of any firm that's bailed out by the Treasury should not be making more money than the highest-paid government office." Is the financial crisis hurting your business?

McCain is also expressing great concern about giving one person, Paulson, control of a $700 billion bailout package and has not decided whether he will vote for the measure, a senior aide to McCain said.

"Never before in the history of our nation has so much power and money been concentrated in the hands of one person," McCain said. "This arrangement makes me deeply uncomfortable. And when we're talking about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, 'trust me' just isn't good enough."

Instead, McCain is proposing a bipartisan oversight board to supervise the rescue, suggesting three people for it: former Republican rival and businessman Mitt Romney, Barack Obama supporter and Wall Street heavyweight Warren Buffett and independent New York mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg.

"We won't solve a problem caused by poor oversight with a plan that has no oversight," McCain said.


McCain also has tried to burnish his image as a reformer during his response to the economic crisis.

"Americans have had enough of business as usual. Americans have had enough of the cozy relationships between politicians and power brokers. The days of me first, country second will end on November 4th when you vote for me and [Governor Sarah] Palin," McCain told supporters in Pennsylvania.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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