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McCain struggles for upset; Republican doubts grow

Barack Obama and John McCain fought for votes in Pennsylvania, the only major Democratic state McCain is still aggressively contesting as his chances of winning presidential election appear increasingly dim.

world Updated: Oct 29, 2008 09:25 IST

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain fought for votes in Pennsylvania, the only major Democratic state McCain is still aggressively contesting as his chances of winning on Tuesday's presidential election appear increasingly dim. Even two Republicans once on McCain's short list for vice president sounded skeptical of a McCain victory.

In a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mitt Romney referred to "the very real possibility of an Obama presidency." In the Midwest, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a dour assessment of McCain's chances in his state, saying Obama "has a pretty good advantage in Minnesota right now." McCain received another blow later Tuesday when a poll of registered voters in his home state of Arizona showed him in a statistical dead heat with Obama. By contrast, the Illinois senator is leading by more than 30 percentage points in his own state. The Cronkite-Eight Poll showed McCain leading in Arizona by 46 to 44 per cent, down from a 7-point advantage in a survey by the same pollster last month. The telephone poll conducted Oct. 23-26 had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Nationally, a poll by the Pew Research Center found Obama with a 16-point lead among registered voters. The survey said Obama had 52 per cent and McCain 36 per cent, with independent voters supporting the Democrat by a 48-31 margin. Other national polls showed Obama with a lead in single digit.

The candidates kicked off their final week of campaigning on Tuesday in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, a state which has not supported a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years and where Obama is ahead in the polls. McCain is working for an upset in next Tuesday's election and has Pennsylvania as the linchpin to his victory strategy.

"I'm not afraid of the fight, I'm ready for it," McCain told noisy supporters at a rally on Tuesday in Hershey, home to the world's largest chocolate factory.

If McCain does not win Pennsylvania, it is hard to see how he can win the presidency since Obama is expected to pick up several of the states that helped re-elect Republican President George W Bush four years ago. McCain needs a Democratic-leaning state to make up for expected losses.

Winning states is key to securing the White House, as the presidency is won by electoral votes rather than a nationwide popular vote. Each state has a number of electoral votes that is roughly tied to its population. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes; 270 are needed to win the White House.

Obama's advisers say they are confident of victory in Pennsylvania. Still, they sent the candidate to rally supporters in Pittsburgh Monday night and to the battleground Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday. About 9,000 people stood in the mud and a steady, cold rain at Widener University to hear him.

"I just want all of you to know that if we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we're not going to bring change to America," said Obama, uncharacteristically attired in jeans, sneakers and a raincoat. McCain canceled a second event 50 miles (80 kilometers) away in Quakertown because of the dismal weather.

McCain appeared with running mate Sarah Palin, who planned to stay in the state for another rally in Shippensburg. "Pennsylvania, it's going to be a hard-fought contest here," she said. "It's going to come down to the wire here."

Both presidential candidates left Pennsylvania later in the day for rallies in Republican strongholds that have turned into battleground states _ McCain to North Carolina and Obama to Virginia. McCain is increasingly playing defense in states that have been reliably Republican, with the party also buying ads in Montana and expanding its advertising in West Virginia.

Dropping into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, Obama spoke first to about 8,000 people who spilled onto a soccer field at James Madison University in Harrisonburg because the indoor site was too packed. Inside, Obama found 12,000 more people, mostly students who were too excited to sit.

"This election, more than any other in my lifetime, represents a clear choice between the past and the future," the 47-year-old Democrat said, ribbing his 72-year-old opponent.

At night, Obama whipped into Norfolk, Virginia, and energized a minor-league baseball stadium full of supporters. He said the long campaign has vindicated his faith in America's people. "That's how we've come so far and so close because of you," he said at the evening rally. "That's how we're going to change this country with your help."

McCain hammered away at the theme that he's the candidate who is ready to take office, seasoned by a military career and his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, an area with a big military presence.

"I've been tested, Sen. Obama has not been tested, I won't be a president who has to be tested," he said, warning of a dangerous world that he is best equipped to face. "I've fought for you in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate." The Nielsen Company reported Tuesday that McCain and Obama are focusing about three-fourths of their advertising in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama, who had been outspending McCain by up to 4-1 on advertising, is now airing only twice as many ads as McCain, the ratings company said.

Those three states are traditional battlegrounds, offering a combined 68 electoral votes on Election Day. The candidate taking two of these three states is likely to win the presidency. The concentration of firepower comes even as Obama mounts a national advertising campaign that will culminate Wednesday evening with a 30-minute, prime-time commercial on network television. Obama was also expected to get a boost when he makes his first joint campaign appearance with former President Bill Clinton at a rally Wednesday in Orlando, Florida, to encourage early voting. Bill Clinton was cool toward Obama following the bruising nomination battle between Obama and Clinton's wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But both Clintons gave rousing endorsements of Obama at the Democratic National Convention in August. Since then, Bill Clinton has campaigned for Obama on his own.

Early voting in Florida and some other swing states also appeared to be in Obama's favor. In North Carolina, for example, the turnout for early voting has been nearly a third higher than in 2004 and the number of Democrats has been close to double that of Republicans. Democratic voters in Florida have numbered about 100,000 more than Republicans, and Democrats also hold an edge so far in Colorado. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday extended early voting hours from eight to 12 hours each weekday and a total of 12 hours this weekend to help ease long lines at polling sites. Early voting in Florida ends on Sunday.

Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, campaigned in Florida, and he urged people to vote early. "How you go, goes the nation," Biden told hundreds gathered in a pasture in central Florida. "Folks, don't wait."

In Georgia, residents were braving lines as long as eight hours to vote early, forcing some polling sites to stay open deep into the night.

McCain told Pennsylvania voters that Obama is a traditional liberal Democrat seeking to redistribute wealth and even willing to displace the much-watched national baseball championship series with a 30-minute commercial on Wednesday night.

"No one will delay a World Series game with an infomercial when I'm president," McCain said to loud applause.