Sen. John McCain, with wife Cindy, speaks to supporters in Zanesville,… (Amy Sancetta / Associated…)
LANCASTER, OHIO — Barack Obama and John McCain began to ease back their slashing attacks on one another Sunday, a sign that both presidential candidates will seek to end the long, bitter race on a positive note.
Obama, the Democratic nominee, drew more than 100,000 people to a chilly outdoor rally in front of the gold-domed Statehouse in Denver, and an additional 45,000 in frigid late-day temperatures in Fort Collins.
"We have always been at our best when we're called to look past our differences and to come together as one nation, leadership that rallied this country to a common purpose, to a higher purpose," Obama told the crowd in Denver.
McCain, the Republican nominee, stumped for votes before far smaller but enthusiastic audiences at three stops in rural Iowa and Ohio, states he calls "must-win" for his underdog campaign.
"I'm going to create wealth for all Americans by creating opportunity for all Americans," he vowed at a rally in Zanesville, Ohio.
Appearing earlier on NBC's "Meet the Press," McCain waved aside national polls that show him trailing far behind Obama, and insisted that he would stage an upset victory. He said the race had "closed" in the last week, and that he remained in striking distance.
"Obviously, I choose to trust my senses as well as the polls," the Arizona senator said. "I've been in a lot of presidential campaigns. I see the intensity out there. I see the passion. We're very competitive out there."
He added, "We're going to be up very, very late on election night."
But after a brutal week of sagging polls across the nation and small crowds in nearly every battleground state, McCain found little apparent encouragement in Cedar Falls, Iowa, his first stop of the day.
The latest statewide poll showed that Obama had widened his lead over McCain in Iowa to 15 points. And the state's largest-circulation newspaper, the Des Moines Register, endorsed Obama.
McCain's aides say he remains upbeat and intently focused despite such setbacks. They say he campaigns best as the underdog, and will fight until the last vote is cast.
But the campaign has taken on what sometimes seems a plaintive tone. When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced McCain to 2,600 people at the University of Northern Iowa, he pleaded for support.
"We need you, we need you," he told the crowd. "John McCain needs your help. He deserves your help."
When McCain took the stage, he conceded that he was "a few points down." In a rare admission, he even mentioned the possibility of defeat on Nov. 4.
"I fought for you most of my life where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate," he said.
It was the 41st anniversary of the day McCain, then a Navy pilot, "intercepted a surface-to-air missile" with his airplane, as he described it Sunday, while on a bombing mission over North Vietnam. He spent more than five years as a prisoner of war.
It is a sign of McCain's apparent plight now that he increasingly argues that, if for no other reason, voters should send him to the Oval Office to serve as a safeguard against a Democratic majority in Congress.
He peppers his speeches with dire warnings about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee.
Obama already is "making plans" with them to "raise taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," McCain declared at a nighttime rally in Lancaster, Ohio.
Unlike the Democrats, he said, "we are not going to spread the wealth around." On foreign policy, he added, "I don't need any on-the-job training."
In Colorado, Obama kept up his efforts to portray McCain as a virtual clone of President Bush, a charge the Republican staunchly denies.
"We know what the Bush-McCain philosophy looks like," the Illinois senator said in Fort Collins. "It's a philosophy that says we should give more and more to folks at the top -- to millionaires and billionaires, to the wealthiest among us -- and somehow it's going to trickle down to the rest of us."
Obama said a McCain White House would provide more tax breaks for wealthy people and corporations, while leaving middle-class families to bear the brunt of the faltering economy.
Obama touted his tax proposals, including giving tax credits to companies that create new jobs and offering a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures to give struggling homeowners time to renegotiate their loans.
He also repeated his pledge to not increase taxes on families earning less than $250,000.
"Let me be crystal-clear," he said. "If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year -- which includes 98% of small-business owners and 99.9% of plumbers -- then you won't see your taxes increase one single dime. Not your payroll tax, not your income tax, not your capital gains tax -- no tax. That is my commitment to you."
Obama asked his supporters to raise their hands if they had already cast their ballots in Colorado's early-voting program.