Despite trailing in the polls, John McCain insisted on Sunday that he is making a comeback and will defeat Democrat Barack Obama even as he desperately fought to hold on to Republican-leaning states.
But a confident Obama kept playing on traditionally Republican turf, spending the remaining days left in the campaign mostly in states that President George W Bush won four years ago. Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, was concluding a swing through the West with two rallies in Colorado, one of three states in the region, including Nevada and New Mexico, that are hotly contested even though McCain should have a natural advantage. He has represented neighboring Arizona in the Senate for nearly a quarter century.
McCain was starting off on Sunday in Iowa, a Midwestern state where he's looking to make up for some lost ground in a state his campaign aides argue is closer than the public polling shows. McCain was later to hold two rallies in Ohio.
Ohio, a state that voted for President George W Bush in 2000 and 2004, has become vastly important for both candidates because it could guarantee Obama's victory in the Electoral College. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio since Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and voters in Ohio have selected the eventual winner in the past 11 presidential elections. Polls of the 50 states with nine days remaining until the election show Obama either nearing or above the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, dismissed the sour poll numbers and said his campaign is "doing fine." The Republican, interviewed from Iowa on Sunday on NBC television's "Meet the Press, said his campaign has pulled closer to Obama's.
"We've closed in the last week," said McCain. "We'll continue to be very competitive in many of the battleground states." Questioned about his standing, McCain said he's been heartened by the size of the crowds and the level of enthusiasm at his events. "This is going to be a very close race, and I believe I'm going to win it," he said.
But Obama was using his record-breaking fundraising advantage to buy up media time and make what he hopes is a closing argument for the presidency.
Obama released a new TV ad on Sunday that describes McCain as Obama often does on the campaign trail _ as "out of ideas, out of touch and running out of time." It also accused the Republican of resorting to smears and scare tactics because he does not have a plan to turn around the economy. Obama's campaign said the 30-second ad will begin running on national cable television outlets on Monday.
Election Day is nine days away, on November 4.
Under the US system, the nationwide popular vote does not decide the election. Instead,the contest is decided on a winner-take-all state-by-state basis with each candidate battling to capture electoral votes that are roughly apportioned according to population.
A poll by Ohio's eight largest newspapers now shows Obama leading McCain there by 3 per centage points, 49-46. Last month, the poll showed McCain with a 6-point lead.
The flurry of appearances by both candidates over the weekend in the West were likely to represent the last time in a long, testy campaign that the toss-up territory will be given such heavy attention.
Both men were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Saturday but the turnouts for their appearances were overwhelmingly one-sided. The crowd estimate for Obama was about 45,000 people, while McCain was able to draw only about 1,500. The city is heavily Hispanic and the numbers reflected growing support from that voting bloc for Obama, which also boosts his chances in Nevada and Colorado. The focus in the last days of the campaign will be in the East, in traditional battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where Obama was expected, as he did on Saturday, to continue hammering McCain, lumping him together with the unpopular Bush, a fellow Republican. McCain has outspokenly blamed Bush's leadership for the country's woes in recent days. "John McCain attacking George Bush for his out-of-hand economic policy is like (Vice President) Dick Cheney attacking George Bush for his go-it-alone foreign policy," Obama said Saturday. Later in the day, Obama put McCain's criticism of Bush this way: "It's like Robin getting mad at Batman."
Obama said it was too late for McCain to portray himself as independent from Bush after standing with him for years. McCain has a mixed record of supporting and bucking Bush.
As the front-running Obama campaigned earlier Saturday at a baseball stadium in Reno, Nevada, McCain was at an outdoor rally at the New Mexico state fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The Republican from nearby Arizona claimed he had the edge in tossup states in the region, calling himself "a fellow Westerner."
"Sen. Obama has never been south of the border" in Mexico, said McCain, arguing that he has a feel for issues like water that resonate throughout the region. Obama's campaign said Obama has, in fact, been to Mexico before he got into public office. McCain continued to portray Obama, an Illinois senator, as a tax-and-spend liberal certain to push for more government and higher spending.
"He believes in redistributing wealth," McCain said. "That's not America."
McCain also appeared at a rally in Mesilla, New Mexico, where he again emphasized his status as a fellow Westerner who understood regional issues.
Obama, at a night rally in Albuquerque, told supporters to "not let up." Democrat Al Gore won the state by just 366 votes in 2000, even though he ultimately lost the election.
On Sunday, Obama's campaign also unveiled a two-minute TV ad that asks, "Will our country be better off four years from now?" The length of the ad, which will air in key states, highlights Obama's fundraising superiority, most campaign commercials run 30 seconds or a minute.
Without mentioning McCain, the ad promotes Obama's economic policies while saying that the Democrat will work to end "mindless partisanship" and "divisiveness."
The Republican National Committee released its own TV ad Saturday questioning whether Obama has the experience to be president. The ad, featuring the image of a stormy ocean, says the nation is in "uncertain times" that could get worse and asks whether voters want a president "who's untested at the helm."
A Newsweek poll of likely voters showed Obama with 53 per cent to McCain's 41 per cent. The magazine's poll of registered voters found Obama leading in every age group and among men as well as women, and even holding a slim 46-to-44 per cent edge among working-class whites.
The telephone poll, conducted from October 22-23 with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points, also found that 62 per cent of those surveyed have a favorable view of Obama.
Despite trailing in the polls, McCain pledged a scrappy close to the campaign.
"We're a few points down and the pundits, of course, as they have four or five times, have written us off," McCain said in Albuquerque. "We've got them just where we want them."