Barack Obama left the U.S. presidential campaign trail to visit his ailing grandmother as new polls showed him with solid leads in states that could all but guarantee his victory over John McCain in the Nov. 4 election.
Two polls released on Thursday gave Obama double-digit leads in Ohio, a battleground state won by Republican President George W. Bush in 2004. The polls also showed Obama with double digit leads in Pennsylvania, a Democratic state that would be crucial to McCain's hopes for a come-from-behind victory.
Obama has also led most national polls, though some surveys show the race tightening. But the nationwide popular vote does not count for victory in the U.S. system, which depends instead on state-by-state tallies of electoral votes.
State polls show Obama likely to win all the states that voted for fellow Democrat John Kerry in 2004, plus a few that went to Bush. If he wins all of Kerry's states, plus Ohio, he would win the election.
Obama, seeking to become the first black U.S. president, has seen his poll numbers rise as the United States' economic turmoil deepens. He has argued that McCain would follow the same economic and war policies as the unpopular Bush administration. In recent days, McCain has stepped up attacks on Obama, charging he would pursue socialist tax plans aimed at redistributing Americans' wealth. On Thursday as he toured Florida, a must-win state that McCain is in danger of losing, the Republican said Obama would say "anything to get elected."
Meanwhile, Obama campaigned in Indiana, another Republican state that he has a chance of winning. He characterized McCain's approach to taxes as nothing more than "putting corporations ahead of workers."
After the rally, Obama flew to Hawaii to see his grandmother, 85-year-old Madelyn Payne Dunham, who helped raise him. Dunham was recently released from the hospital and was said to be gravely ill after breaking a hip.
Obama was to spend on Thursday night and most of on Friday with her before campaigning on Saturday in Nevada.
Leaving the campaign trail less than two weeks before the election was politically risky. His lead is hardly insurmountable and poll numbers have shifted sharply throughout the race. But it could also help voters see a more personal side of Obama, who has been criticized at times for seeming aloof. Obama said the decision to go to Hawaii was easy to make, telling CBS television that he "got there too late" when his mother died of ovarian cancer in 1995 at age 53, and wants now to make sure "that I don't make the same mistake twice."
"My grandmother's the last one left," he said. McCain, meanwhile, has seen media attention sidetracked by revelations that the Republican Party bought $150,000 in clothes, hair styling and accessories for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family.
Palin has been a divisive figure in the race. Polls show that large blocs of voters see the first-term governor of Alaska as unqualified for the vice presidency. But she has helped McCain shore up support among the Republican base with her conservative politics and folksy, suburban-mother persona.
News of the purchases, largely from upscale Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, contrasts with that image.
During an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Palin said gender bias is to blame for the controversy surrounding the purchases. Palin said there is a double standard when it comes to talking about female politicians and that rarely are such issues as hair or wardrobe mentioned when it comes to the male candidates. Palin also said the clothes weren't worth that much, and many of them have never left the campaign plane.
"It's kind of painful to be criticized for something when all the facts are not out there and are not reported," Palin said. "Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are."
McCain was asked several questions about the shopping spree _ and he answered each one more or less the same way: Palin needed clothes, and they will be donated to charity after the campaign. Asked if he was surprised at the amount spent, McCain said, "It works that the clothes will be donated to charity. Nothing surprises me."
McCain offered no further comment, except to say that the Republican National Committee does not buy his clothes. Obama's growing strength in Republican states was highlighted in two sets of polls released on Thursday: three Quinnipiac University polls and the Big Ten Battleground Poll.
In Ohio, Obama had a 52 per cent to 38 per cent advantage among likely voters in the Quinnipiac poll; The Big Ten Battleground poll gave Obama a 53 per cent to 41 per cent lead.
In Pennsylvania, Obama had a 53 per cent to 40 per cent lead in the Quinnipiac poll; 52 per cent to 41 per cent in the Big Ten Battleground poll.
The Big Ten Battleground poll also showed Obama with significant leads in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. The Quinnipiac results in Florida offered some cheer for McCain supporters: Obama's 5 percentage point lead, 49 per cent to 44 percent, was down from an 8 percentage point spread on Oct. 1. Meanwhile, Scott McClellan, Bush's former press secretary, said on Thursday he was backing Obama for president.
McClellan is the second former Bush administration figure to publicly back Obama, following former Secretary of State Colin Powell. McClellan caused bitterness among his former co-workers with a tell-all book critical of Bush.
Also on Thursday, in filings to the Federal Election Commission, the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee reported that they had a combined $84 million as of last week to spend before Election Day.
McCain, who has accepted public financing for his campaign, is restricted in his spending. As of Oct 15 he had more than $25 million in hand, but more than $1 million debts. The RNC, which has been helping his candidacy, had more than $59 million in the bank. His Democratic rival, Barack Obama, is not participating in the public finance system and raised a record-shattering $150 million in September.
Obama had nearly $66 million in the bank at the end of the first two weeks in October. The Democratic National Committee and the joint victory fund reported combined cash on hand of $31 million.