Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has labelled rival Barack Obama a free spending Democrat, and is telling voters they should send a “team of mavericks” to the White House.
Riding a boost in the polls which give him a newfound edge over Mr Obama, Mr McCain told voters that he, and not his Democratic rivals, were the real agents of change who would shake up a free-spending Washington.
IN DEPTH: Visit our US elections minisite
RELATED: McCain takes poll lead over Obama
RELATED: Obama, McCain duel as race gathers pace
RELATED: McCain vows to shake up Washington
BLOG: America Decides – the benefit of the bounce
YOUR SAY: Has McCain made the right VP choice?
VIDEO: Sarah Palin coy over talking to the media
“We're going to work for you and we're going to drain the swamp in Washington, DC,” Arizona senator Mr McCain told a rally in Lee's Summit, Missouri.
“We'll take them on and we'll defeat 'em because America knows it's time for change and it's time for the right change.”
Senator McCain praised running mate Sarah Palin's history of fighting corruption in her own party and “pork-barrel” spending while governor of Alaska, and touted his own reputation of bucking the party line.
As they fight to the November 4 election, Mr McCain is wrestling for Mr Obama's mantle of change amid a troubled economy and deep electoral dissatisfaction with the government.
The tactic appears to be working. Mr McCain pulled ahead of Mr Obama in two polls released on Monday and closed the gap to a tie in another, all just in the wake of the Republican party's nominating convention, which closed on Thursday.
The USA Today/Gallup survey showed Senator McCain ahead by 50 to 46 per cent among registered voters, a turnaround from one week ago when, just after the Democratic National Convention, Illinois senator Mr Obama had a seven-point lead.
One factor in the shift was Mr McCain's surprise choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the choice of Mrs Palin had made them more likely to vote for Mr McCain, while 21 per cent said they were now less likely to back the Republicans.
Polls by CNN and Rasmussen had Mr McCain essentially tied with Mr Obama, after trailing by as much as nine points last week.
“He's in a far better position than his people imagined he would be in at this point,” political scientist Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia told USA Today.
In a campaign increasingly focused on wasteful spending of tax money, Mr McCain accused Senator Obama of massive use of “earmarks” – additions to federal legislation which direct spending to a politician's pet projects, often called “pork-barrel” spending.
“Senator Obama asked for nearly a billion dollars in pork-barrel earmark spending – $US932 million ($A1.12 billion), almost a million dollars for every day he was in the United States Senate,” Mr McCain told the Missouri rally.
“I will veto every pork-barrel earmark spending bill that comes across my desk. We will stop it, my friends, because it breeds corruption and we can no longer stand for that,” said Mr McCain.
On the campaign trail in Flint, Michigan Monday, Mr Obama questioned the “maverick” credentials of the McCain-Palin team, pointing out that as a mayor and then governor in Alaska Mrs Palin aggressively sought earmarks from Congress.
“And when John McCain with a straight face says 'I'm going to change things,' at the same time as he says he's agreed with (President) George Bush 90 per cent of the time, you know it's pretty hard to believe.”
Mr Obama said that Mrs Palin, as Alaska's governor, had supported a hugely expensive bridge project funded by a congressional earmark before it sparked an outcry as an example of wasteful “pork-barrel” spending.
“You can't just make stuff up, you can't just reinvent yourself,” he said.
“The American people aren't stupid. What they're looking for is someone who's been consistently calling for change” on Iraq, tax cuts, making college costs affordable, on healthcare and ethics reform.
“That's change you can believe in, that's why I'm running for president,” Mr Obama said to loud applause.