Spotlight turns to Ohio and Pennsylvania

BARACK OBAMA and John McCain were locked in a last-ditch fight for the key industrial states of Ohio and Pennsylvania yesterday as the race to the White House race appeared to be tilting to the Democratic candidate.

The Illinois senator was canvassing in the three biggest cities in the showdown state of Ohio, and launched an advertisement emphasising ties between Republican McCain and unpopular vice-president Dick Cheney.

“I’m delighted to support John McCain,” Cheney says in the advert, shot at a campaign event on Saturday in Wyoming. He also praises McCain’s running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin. “That’s not the change we need,” the advert’s announcer said.

McCain trails Obama in every national opinion poll and in many crucial battleground states ahead of Tuesday’s vote, but aides said he was closing the gap at the end of a campaign that has lasted nearly two years and cost more than $2 billion (€1.5bn).

“What we’re in for is a slam-bang finish,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said on Fox News.

“He’s been counted out before and won these kinds of states and we’re in the process of winning them right now,” Davis said of big battleground states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia that are the focus of the race’s final days as each candidate searches for the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Opinion polls offer few signs to back up Davis’s claim. McCain is struggling to defend about a dozen states won by Republican President George W Bush in 2004 and polls show Obama ahead or running even in key states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina and Nevada.

A new poll in Ohio showed McCain with a 2-point advantage, although other surveys gave Obama a narrow edge.

McCain’s prime hope of a breakthrough in a Democratic-leaning state is Pennsylvania, won by Democrats in the last four presidential elections. Obama has led in every opinion poll in the state this month, although his edge has narrowed from double digits to 4-7 points.

“I think that could be one of the bellwether states of this election,” Davis said on ABC television.

“We were there yesterday. We’re going back. It is a state that I think we can snatch from the Democrats and really be a part of our coalition for the election,” he said.

Davis also said McCain had seen a “huge surge” in support in recent days in three western battlegrounds — Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada — and declared each of those states dead even. Public polls in the last week show Obama ahead in all three by a minimum of 4%.

Obama is aggressively campaigning for votes in the last two days of the campaign, hitting Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia — all won by Bush in 2004. A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll on Sunday puts Obama’s national lead at 6%.

Other polls put the advantage for Obama at between 4% and 13%.

Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod noted Democrats have had an advantage in early voting in key states like Colorado and Florida. “In Colorado last time, the Republicans had an 8-point edge in early voting. We have an edge now,” Axelrod said.

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