Trailing in the polls, John McCain today said US political pundits may have written off his presidential campaign but he will “fool them again” and “come from behind like we have every time in the past”.
Mr McCain was speaking as the latest average of polls showed his Democratic rival Barack Obama has a clear six-point lead nationally, with the edge in most of the battleground states.
The economic crisis, which has sent the McCain campaign stumbling off track in recent weeks, also continued to dominate voters’ minds as President George Bush said “uncertainty and fear” and the markets meltdown was a worldwide problem.
Speaking at a rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin – a key battleground in the election – Mr McCain said: “I’m here this morning to ask for your help in a tough and hard-fought election.
“And it’s tough that we’re the underdogs, and we’re going to come from behind like we have every time in the past.
“How many times, my friends, have the pundits written off the McCain campaign.
“We’re going to fool them again, we’re going to fool them one more time.”
The 72-year-old Arizona senator’s campaign was virtually written off last summer after weeks of poor fundraising, significant staff departures, and falling poll numbers.
At the time, drawing on his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he declared: “I have faced a lot tougher times than this in my life... This is a day at the beach compared to some days I have had in my life.”
Today, he portrayed his rival as a risky choice for Americans on November 4.
“We have all heard what he said, but it’s less clear what he has done or what he will do,” Mr McCain said.
“Rather than answer his critics, Senator Obama will try to distract you from noticing that he never answers the serious, legitimate questions he has been asked.
“My friends, he has even questioned my truthfulness.”
Tackling Mr Obama’s claims that he would only offer four more years of Mr Bush’s unpopular policies, Mr McCain said an option to maintain the status quo was not on the ballot.
“You don’t have to hope that things will change when you vote for me,” he said.
“You know things will change because I’ve been fighting for change in Washington my whole career, I’ve been fighting for you my whole life, and that’s what I will do as President of the United States.”
The McCain campaign also launched a scathing attack on Mr Obama in a new advert which reflected how negative the race has become in recent days.
The advert refers to Mr Obama’s “blind ambition”.
“When convenient, he worked with terrorist Bill Ayers,” it says.
“When discovered, he lied.
“Obama. Blind ambition. Bad judgment.”
The advert referred to Mr Obama’s association with 1960s radical Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground whose members were blamed for several bombings when Mr Obama was a child.
The Democrat has denounced Ayers’ radical views and activities.
Speaking in Chillicothe, Ohio, another key state for both campaigns, Mr Obama accused his rival of trying to divide the country.
“It’s not hard to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division,” the 47-year-old Illinois senator said.
He said Americans want “someone who can lead this country” with a steady hand in a time of economic crisis, not divide it.
Echoing Mr McCain’s “country first” motto, Mr Obama said: “Now more than ever it is time to put country ahead of politics.”
The state’s governor, Ted Strickland – a high-profile Obama supporter – told the crowd: “The McCain-Palin campaign and some of their followers unfortunately want you to be afraid of Barack Obama.”
But he added that Ohio’s voters “have nothing to fear from Barack Obama”.
In an email to supporters, Mr Obama’s running mate Joe Biden said the McCain campaign was “setting a new low in presidential politics with their dishonourable campaign”.
“The McCain campaign is on the ropes, and sadly it’s no surprise they’re responding with attacks and outright lies,” he wrote.
“I’ve heard some pretty unspeakable things in the past few days – deeply offensive smears that we’ll hear over and over again until election day.
“John McCain and Governor Palin are setting a new low in presidential politics with their dishonourable campaign.
“Barack and I are out there every day fighting back.”