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McCain, Obama hit key states in final 48 hrs

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain raced through the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, with McCain struggling to overtake Obama's lead.

world Updated: Nov 03, 2008 16:39 IST

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain raced through the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania on Sunday, with McCain struggling to overtake Obama's lead in the final 48 hours of a grueling White House campaign.

Obama warned supporters against overconfidence during rallies in Ohio, one of about a dozen crucial battleground states that will decide Tuesday's election to succeed unpopular President George W Bush.

The Illinois senator leads McCain in national opinion polls and in many key Republican-leaning states as a two-year campaign that has cost more than $2 billion draws to a close.

"Don't believe for a second that this election is over," Obama told a crowd of more than 60,000 in Columbus. Another 80,000 greeted him in Cleveland, where rocker Bruce Springsteen warmed up the audience and introduced Obama.

"We can't afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in these last few days," said Obama, who would be the first black US president.

McCain reached out to undecided voters in Pennsylvania, his best and perhaps last hope of stealing a Democratic-leaning state from Obama as the two candidates search for the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

He also visited Peterborough, New Hampshire, another state won by Democrats in 2004 and where he scored key wins in 2000 and earlier this year in the primary.

The Arizona senator is battling to overcome a strong challenge from Obama in about a dozen states won by Bush in 2004, and he and his top aides said he was closing the gap at the end.

"My friends, I've been in a lot of campaigns. I know when momentum is there," McCain said in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. "We're going to win Pennsylvania and we're going to win this election. I sense it and I feel it and I know it."

McCain's whirlwind day of campaigning featured two stops in Pennsylvania, the appearance in New Hampshire and a post-midnight rally with thousands of supporters in a Miami basketball arena. He'll wind up the race on Monday with stops in seven states, including his home of Arizona.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, told reporters the senator would make stops in Colorado and New Mexico on election day after voting in Arizona.

"What we're in for is a slam-bang finish," Davis said on "Fox News Sunday."

"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.

Playing defense

A flurry of new opinion polls on Sunday offered only slim evidence to back up Davis' claim. One new survey showed McCain slightly ahead in Ohio, although others showed Obama leading.

Obama has an edge in most other key battleground states, although his advantage has been whittled down in Florida, Virginia, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Both candidates drove home their main themes in the final days of the race, with Obama linking McCain to Bush and adding a new twist with an advertisement tying McCain to the equally disliked Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I'm delighted to support John McCain," Cheney says in the ad, shot at a campaign event on Saturday in Wyoming. He also praises McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. "That's not the change we need," the ad's announcer says.

McCain renewed his attacks on Obama as a liberal whose tax policies would hurt small businesses. Obama has said he will raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.

As Obama boarded his campaign plane for Ohio on Sunday morning in Missouri, a reporter asked if he would hold a news conference. "I will. On Wednesday," he said. A campaign spokeswoman later said plans for a news conference were not firm but it would be sometime this week.

In Ohio, Obama offered rare praise for McCain, applauding his comic turn on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

"John McCain was funny yesterday on 'Saturday Night Live,'" Obama said. "That's part of what politics should be about, being able to laugh at each other but also laugh at ourselves."

Obama's campaign has focused on getting supporters to vote early, hoping to lock in backing from new and sporadic voters who otherwise might not turn out to the polls. An estimated 30 percent of voters will have cast their ballots by the time polls open on Tuesday, and Democrats say they are encouraged by the early results.

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 on ABC's "This Week."

"In Florida, they finished early voting and absentee voting 40,000 votes ahead. We think we're going to have a 350,000 vote edge," he said.