Washington // With less than a week to go before US voters select their next president, the two White House hopefuls are hop-scotching across the country making a final pitch for votes in the handful of battleground states where the race is likely to be decided. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, enters the last days of his 21-month campaign with three distinct advantages: momentum, money and a lead in the polls in several closely contested states that traditionally favour Republicans.
John McCain is closing the race on defence, forced to spend time and resources campaigning in such states as Florida, North Carolina and Ohio that went for George W Bush in 2004 and which conventional wisdom said as recently as a few months ago would safely be his. But while Democrats have become increasingly optimistic about their chances - and Republicans increasingly frustrated to the point of open griping - there is at least one campaign message common to both candidates: the race is not over.
Mr Obama has cautioned Democrats against becoming overly confident and complacent, which could dampen turnout at the polls; some already wonder whether the predicted huge numbers of young people and African-Americans supporting Mr Obama will actually materialise.
Meanwhile, Mr McCain, whose campaign has been beset by infighting, in part over his running mate, Sarah Palin, is trying to reassure voters he still can win. He has said he feels most comfortable as the underdog and recently dismissed polls showing him trailing in several important states, saying of his campaign: "We're doing fine." The two candidates went at each other on Monday in different places in the same critical state, Ohio, with both addressing supporters in cities hard hit by the country's economic downturn. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. In his remarks in Dayton, Mr McCain portrayed Mr Obama as a supporter of bigger government who will raise taxes, and himself as "someone who will finish the race before starting the victory lap, someone who will fight to the end and not for himself but for his country". He also invoked an argument Republicans are planning to use more in the final days: putting Barack Obama in the White House will give Democrats, who control both chambers of the US Congress and who are expected to pick up even more seats, too much power. "There's eight days to go. We're a few points down. The pundits have written us off, just like they've done before. My opponent is working out the details with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid of their plans to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," Mr McCain said, referring to Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, and Harry Reid, her Senate counterpart. "He's measuring the drapes I guess I'm old fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in before presuming the outcome." Mr Obama spoke later in the day in Canton, delivering what his aides called a "closing argument" speech, though his remarks touched largely on the same themes of hope, unity and change with which he opened his campaign. He continued to link Mr McCain to the unpopular president, saying the Arizona senator represents more of the same. "So, look, Ohio, we have tried it John McCain's way. We have tried it George Bush's way," he said. "And deep down, deep down, Senator McCain knows that, which is why his campaign said that, if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose. That's why he's spending these last weeks calling me every name in the book. Because that's how you play the game in Washington. If you can't beat your opponent's ideas, you distort those ideas and maybe make some up." The Republicans' rhetoric has indeed become increasingly pitched in the final month, with Mr McCain and Mrs Palin raising questions about Mr Obama's ties to William Ayers, a former member of a radical domestic group that once plotted to bomb the US Capitol, and painting him as "dangerous" for the country. The Republican National Committee sent out a mailer last week with the word "Terrorist" in big letters on the front and a picture of Mr Obama inside, with the warning: "Not Who You Think He Is." Mr McCain has lately spent more time hammering away at Mr Obama's economic plans instead, as the economy is, by far, foremost on voters' minds. He has picked up on language used by the now infamous Ohio man known as Joe the Plumber, who suggested that Mr Obama's tax policies - and his call to "spread the wealth" - smacked of socialism. Mr McCain is mockingly calling his opponent the "redistributionist-in-chief". Tonight, after campaigning with Bill Clinton, the former president, in Pennsylvania and Florida, Mr Obama will air a 30-minute infomercial on three television networks, CBS, Fox and NBC, made possible by his massive fund-raising effort. He is outspending Mr McCain by a margin of 4-1 and brought in US$150 million (Dh551m) in September alone. firstname.lastname@example.org