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The candidates on the economy: The best ways to find out where they stand on your pocketbook issues

NEW YORK -- The 2008 campaign is in full swing. As Sen. Barack Obama proposes $1,000 family tax credits and Sen. John McCain touts doubling the personal income-tax exemption, it's getting interesting.

But I'm back to the old problem faced in the primaries. How do I know where the candidates really stand on the issues I'm concerned about?

Sure, it's a little easier now -- only two candidates, more focused press coverage. Journalist articles are up to date and give detail. But sometimes it's too much detail, and most articles don't cover the spectrum of economic issues but a single point or topic. And finding them is mostly a matter of chance or time-consuming search.

Clear, comparative, impartial material analyzed and boiled down for my tired, politically overstimulated eyes is still hard to find.

News you can use -- kind of

These resources helped me in the primaries but fall a little short in the two-candidate race:

  • Useconomy.about.com. The New York Times-owned site's economy blog, managed by researcher Kimberly Amaden, summarizes candidates on economic issues. Good, but positions aren't presented side-by-side and I can't tell how timely it is. See the Obama and McCain summaries.)
  • WCBV-TV, Boston. It has a nice candidate comparison page. The format is exactly what I seek -- but again outdated and could be more complete. See the page.
  • Ontheissues.org. It summarizes using candidate quotes but doesn't really analyze or synthesize their positions on the issues and is still cluttered with long-gone candidates.
  • Nightly Business Report Presidential Candidate Grid. Right path, but not enough detail on enough issues for me. See the site. So why start with sites that mostly fail me? Two reasons. First, these sources may be more helpful down the campaign trail. Second, perhaps some enterprising journalists will see the "gap" and fill it.

In fact -- struggling newspapers take note -- I believe there's a market for this sort of concise, tabular presentation. For instance, I'd love to see a table continuously updated with mortgage-related losses and writedowns at major investment banks.

Where to go now -- candidate sites

Going against my instincts, the candidate sites get my current "vote."

Why "against my instincts?" Because I like facts without the spin. Because I like an easy side-by-side comparison, which is hard to do with different sites focused on different things.

Turns out that both the McCain and Obama sites do OK summarizing a broad range of economic issues and proposed actions, from taxes to trade to jobs to energy prices.

Mostly, I liked what I saw. On McCain's "Economic Plan" page, the issues are divided up effectively into living costs, housing crisis, etc. But as each sound byte begins "John McCain will...." they push the "too much spin" envelope a bit.

A bit annoying was the landing page on Obama's site soliciting funds before seeing the candidate or the position. Now, maybe that's necessary since he declined public financing, but, yuck.

Still, if you find your way through the pictures and rhetoric to "issues," then "economy," you'll get some well-stated points. See the page.

Also helpful is the 48-page mini-book download "Keeping America's Promise. Get the download.

Now, more than ever, it's important to know where the candidates stand on the economy. Like with food, energy and other necessities, it pays to shop.

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