Fading in the polls, John McCain fought Barack Obama for support in economically hard-hit Ohio on Monday, each man pledging to right the economy and turn the page on the Bush era in a state with an impressive record for picking presidents.
Eight days from the election, however, Republicans looked and sounded increasingly like a party anticipating defeat, and possibly a substantial one.
McCain betrayed no such pessimism, assailing Obama as "the most liberal person ever to run for the presidency" and warning that Democrats would tax and spend the nation deeper into recession if they win the White House and keep control of Congress.
Referring to Obama, he said, "We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high."
Obama, running to become the nation’s first black president, countered that when it comes to the economy, "John McCain has stood with this president every step of the way."
He added, "The question in this election is not ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ We know the answer to that. The real question is, ‘Will this country be better off four years from now?’"
The polls suggest the country is leaning toward an Obama presidency. The Illinois senator runs ahead in national surveys. He also holds an advantage in several polls measuring sentiment in states that voted for Bush four years ago, as well as at least one — Virginia — that last voted for a Democrat four decades ago.
In a fresh show of GOP concern, officials inside both parties said the Republican National Committee was moving into Montana with a television advertising campaign for the first time this year. The party also is expanding its advertising in West Virginia to run statewide. Both states had presumed safe for McCain for weeks, and RNC advertising has generally run in Republican-leaning states where he is in trouble.
The candidates’ travel plans underscored the Electoral College math.
With scarcely a week remaining, McCain remained largely pinned down in traditionally Republican states, trying to eke out a majority.
By contrast, Obama’s afternoon stop in Pittsburgh marked the first time in more than a week that he had bothered to visit a state fellow Democrat John Kerry won four years ago.
In a show of confidence, he has spent the rest of his campaign time in the past week or more in "red" states — Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio — as he reaches for a sizable triumph.
Whatever doubt remained about the presidential race, only the size of Democratic gains seemed to be in question in the campaign for control of Congress.
Republican Sen. Ted Stevens’ conviction in a corruption trial in Washington gave fresh momentum to the Democrats’ drive for a 60-seat Senate majority that would strengthen their ability to overcome Republican filibusters on key legislation.
McCain himself has endured numerous slights in recent days, including anonymous sniping between his aides and those of running mate Sarah Palin. That came on the heels of the disclosure that clothes and accessories totaling $150,000 had been purchased with donor funds for the Alaska governor and her family.
McCain announced over the weekend that $50,000 worth of merchandise had been returned, and Palin pointedly told one crowd she was back to wearing duds from her "favorite consignment" store in Alaska.
In another blow, fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl speculated openly over the weekend that McCain’s candidacy may end in defeat.
Ohio was Monday’s battleground, with McCain campaigning in Cleveland and Dayton, while Obama was in Canton.
Ohio has voted with the winner each time since 1964, and Bush’s victory there sealed his second White House term four years ago. But the state turned Democratic two years later when Ted Strickland was elected governor, and Sherrod Brown unseated a Republican incumbent to win his Senate seat.
Now public and private polls rate Obama the favorite, and dreary monthly jobless statistics show a statewide economy in trouble. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state has lost 92,000 jobs since February, and Ohio’s unemployment, 7.2 percent of its work force, is well above the national rate of 6.1 percent.
In an attempt to blunt Obama in Ohio, the National Republican Trust PAC, a conservative political action committee, planned to air ads there and in Pennsylvania and Florida showing clips of controversial sermons by Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The group aimed to spend about $1 million in the final six days of the campaign, its executive director, Scott Wheeler said.
McCain met with economic advisers in the morning and then said he had plans to rejuvenate the economy.
"To do this, we need pro-growth and pro-jobs economic policies, not pro-government spending programs paid for with higher taxes," he said in a slap at Obama.
"My approach will lead to rising stock market prices, a stabilized housing market, economic growth and millions of new jobs," he said. "Sen. Obama’s plans will destroy business growth, kill jobs and lead to continued declined in the stock market and make a recession even deeper and more painful."
Obama responded a short while later with what aides said was the summation of his long quest for the White House.
While part of it reprised his 21-month call for change, he also took time to try and link McCain with an unpopular Bush.
"We’ve tried it John McCain’s way. We’ve tried it George Bush’s way," he said. "Deep down, Sen. McCain knows that, which is why his campaign said that `if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’"
AP Special Correspondent David Espo reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington also contributed to this report.
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