McCain faces offensive on the home front

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A new kind of nastiness has entered the fight between John McCain and Barack Obama. This time it is over their houses.

The Democratic candidate, who lives in a four-bathroom Georgian pile complete with wine cellar, has been hurling rocks at his Republican opponent who claims not to know how many houses he and his wife own. "I'll have my staff get back to you," Mr McCain responded, when asked how many places he owns.

It turns out the Arizona senator has seven, any one of which would merit an entire segment on the kitschy Nineties TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. As a result, the McCain life story of a flinty man of modest tastes, who earned his spurs fighting for his country, has taken a battering. Yesterday's Washington Post described him as "a veritable bling-master, worthy of an MTV Cribs episode, those televised tours of brazenly gilded homes led by celebrity owners like 50 Cent, Hulk Hogan and Bow Wow."

The Obama campaign has been swift to get the digs in. "If you don't know how many houses you have, it's not surprising you might think the economy is fundamentally strong," Mr Obama said.

"Does a guy who made more than $4m (£2.1m) last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?" Brian Rogers, Mr McCain's spokesman, hit back.

Mr McCain saw off his Republican opponents by campaigning from one down-at-heel war veterans post to another; presenting himself as a maverick who after years of service in Vietnam could be trusted to lead the country and tell it straight to the voters. But a romp around the McCain residences – on a Google Earth tour quickly organised by the Huffington Post – has taken some of the gloss off the candidate's image as a doughty underdog who is in touch with the travails of ordinary voters.

His main residence is in Phoenix, Arizona; a 12-storey steel and glass condominium that has been proclaimed "The Valley of the Sun's finest example of urban residential living". It cost $4.6m to amalgamate two apartments into a deluxe 7,000 square feet spread, complete with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, various spas and a fitness and yoga centre. Then there's Hidden Valley, the 15-acre ranch, also in Arizona, where the senator likes to entertain by cooking baby back ribs and grilled chicken on the backyard barbecue.

The McCains also have a three-bedroom apartment in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, for which they paid $847,000 last year.

Mr McCain has yet to take reporters on a tour of his three – yes, three – beachfront apartments in the old money resort of La Jolla, California. There at the beachfront in Coronado, the McCains decided to buy two extra apartments so that their four children (one of whom fought in Iraq) could stay out of their hair.

"When I bought the first one, my husband, who is not a beach person, said, 'Oh, this is such a waste of money; the kids will never go'," Mrs McCain (who is the heiress to a billion-dollar beer distributor business) told Vogue. "Then it got to the point where they used it so much I couldn't get in the place. So I bought another one."

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