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ELECTION 2008

Bid for votes turns urgent

In a dash through swing states, McCain and Obama stick to the basics as allies stay on the attack.

November 03, 2008|Cathleen Decker | Decker is a Times staff writer.

Their messages spare and urgent, Barack Obama and John McCain implored uncertain voters to move their way and beseeched the convinced to cast ballots as they barreled Sunday through a swath of battleground states.

Two days before the election is no time to uncork new arguments, so each man stuck to the basics. McCain, struggling to come from behind, hit Obama on taxes and national security and raised the specter of disaster if Democrats control Congress and the White House.

"There's just two days left. We're a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania. The pundits have written us off just like they've done before," McCain told about 2,000 supporters in a high school gymnasium in the Philadelphia suburb of Wallingford. But, he suggested, reports of his demise were premature.

"My friends, the Mac is back."

Obama, trying to expand his lead, restated his early opposition to the Iraq war, insisted that he was better positioned to help the middle class and said that McCain would pursue the same policies that have led to economic disarray.

"Go vote right now," Obama told more than 60,000 people outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. "Do not be late."

Both campaigns and their allies also pressed negative messages, some of them out of public view. The Republican Party unleashed automated phone calls using the words of Democratic primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton against Obama, and a GOP group aired television ads featuring Obama's former pastor, the controversial Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Obama's campaign aired ads tying McCain to the unpopular duo of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and sent mailers highlighting the Republican's plan to tax healthcare benefits.

In both cases, the appeals seemed targeted to older white women, who polls have shown make up a high proportion of the voters still undecided after more than a year of nonstop campaigning.

Surveys released Sunday showed the difficulty the Arizona senator faces as he tries to reverse the trajectory of the race. He continued to trail nationally in the mid- to high-single digits. Some surveys showed the race tightening in key states, but McCain would have to win all of them to turn the tide from Obama.

Across the battleground states, voters were under siege. Phones rang off the hook with appeals. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers and activists rang doorbells and dropped off voting information. In one poll released Sunday by Diageo/Hotline, 2 in 5 voters said they had been talked to by at least one campaign.

Obama campaign officials said they expected 1 million volunteers to canvass voters on election day. That figure does not include hundreds of thousands of partisans from labor and other Democratic organizations.

"We are going to be knocking on doors up until five minutes before the polls close," said Jon Carson, Obama's national field director.

In an interview with Fox News, McCain campaign chief Rick Davis said supporters were making 5 million calls in the campaign's final days.

"I think that what we're in for is a slam-bang finish," Davis said.

Obama spent the day in Ohio, where Bush cemented his 2004 victory over John F. Kerry. The Illinois senator leads in recent polls there, and on Sunday displayed the reach of his campaign's organization by drawing tens of thousands to rallies in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

He returned to the issue that vaulted him ahead of the Democratic pack in the primaries.

"It's time to stop spending $10 billion a month in Iraq while the Iraqi government sits on a huge surplus and we're having deficits," Obama said in Columbus. "As president, I will end this war."

But much of his focus was on the economy. Campaigning in a state where unemployment has hit 7.2%, he said the nation was in the grip of the worst economic crisis since the Depression.

The country, he said, cannot afford four more years of the "tired, stale, old economic theories that say we should give more and more money to millionaires and billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down on everyone else."

He said he would support free trade agreements only to the extent that American jobs are protected.

"I believe in trade, but I want to make sure that it goes both ways," he said.

Obama also renewed his pledge to trim taxes for families earning less than $200,000 a year.

"They work just as hard as folks making a million dollars," he said. "Maybe they haven't been as lucky. Maybe they weren't as well connected. They deserve a break."

McCain continued to slam Obama for what he said was the Democrat's plan to raise taxes on Americans. Obama has pledged to end the Bush tax cuts for those who earn more than $250,000 a year.

The two men have feuded over the subject for weeks, and Republicans credit the issue as giving their candidate a toehold in the final days.

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