White House rivals swap tax barbs
Barack Obama drew one of his biggest crowds of the campaign in St Louis
US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama traded sharp words about their tax plans as they campaigned in key conservative states.
In a radio address, Mr McCain said his Democratic rival's proposals amounted to a "government giveaway".
Mr McCain, who is trailing in the opinion polls, is seeking to shore up support in Virginia and North Carolina.
In front of 100,000 people in St Louis, Missouri, Mr Obama said Mr McCain wanted to cut taxes for wealthy firms.
Missouri is a state often won by whomever becomes president; it voted for George W Bush in the last two elections.
Mr McCain's running mate Sarah Palin appeared on US comedy show Saturday Night Live, which has mocked her mercilessly.
She shared the stage with comedienne Tina Fey, who has caricatured Mrs Palin as an incoherent air-headed flirt.
The real Sarah Palin delivered the show's traditional opening line: "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Mr McCain fired the first volley of the day, saying Mr Obama's economic plan would increase taxes and stifle job creation as the US goes through its worst financial crisis in decades.
"Raising taxes on some in order to give cheques to others is not a tax cut, it's just another government giveaway," he said in a paid radio address.
"Barack Obama's tax plan would convert the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington."
John McCain is behind in the polls and fighting in Republican states
He was referring to Mr Obama's proposal to raise taxes on the five percent of Americans who earn more than $250,000 (£145,000) and either lower them for the rest or give tax credits to those who do not earn enough to pay income tax.
"Senator Obama believes in redistributing the wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans," he said later at a rally in Concord, North Carolina, attended by about 5,000 people.
Mr Obama replied at a rally in St Louis where he drew his biggest US crowd of the campaign - an estimated 100,000 people.
He said Mr McCain "wants to cut taxes for the same people who have already been making out like bandits, in some cases literally".
"John McCain is so out of touch with the struggles you are facing that he must be the first politician in history to call a tax cut for working people 'welfare'," he said.
"The only 'welfare' in this campaign is John McCain's plan to give another $200bn in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in America."
With 17 days to the election, Mr McCain has failed to reverse his slide in the opinion polls.
A poll by Gallup on Saturday suggested the Democratic senator has a nationwide lead over Mr McCain of 50% to 42%.