McCain, Obama battle enters final weekend

Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Friday seized on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star power in Ohio, a state critical to his hopes of clawing back Democrat Barack Obama’s lead going into Tuesday’s election.

Obama, who is ahead in national opinion polls and in this Midwestern state that has been crucial to Republican victories in the last two presidential votes, warned his supporters to expect attacks from McCain in the last days of the campaign.

On the second day of a bus tour through Ohio, McCain was joined by Schwarzenegger and together they stepped off the bus at the last stop of the day, a noisy rally in Columbus.

Schwarzenegger, who starred in many action movies before turning to politics, said Obama’s four years as a senator from Illinois paled in comparison to the five-and-a-half years McCain spent in a Vietnam prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.

”John McCain has served his country longer in a POW camp than his opponent has served in the United States Senate,” Schwarzenegger said.

”Ladies and gentlemen, I only play an action hero in my movies. But John McCain is a real action hero,” he said.

McCain told the crowd he felt he had momentum.

”I know a winning campaign when I see one,” he said. ”We’re a couple of points back. Arnold said it best. The Mac is back. We need a new direction and we have to fight for it.”

Obama was in Iowa, a state in which he already appeared to have a big lead. Campaign aides said he was visiting as a symbolic move to mark where he began his quest for the presidency by winning Iowa’s primary contest last January.

”The people of Iowa, I will always be grateful to you,” Obama, in rolled-up shirt-sleeves on an unseasonably warm and sunny morning, said at the start of his speech. ”What you started here in Iowa has swept the country.”

He warned his supporters to expect to see from the McCain camp ”more of the slash and burn, say-anything, do-anything politics, throw everything up against the refrigerator and see if anything sticks, a message that’s designed to divide and distract; to tear us apart instead of bringing us together.”

Afterward, Obama took a break from campaigning to spend a few hours of Halloween with his family in Chicago.

At a rally in Gary, Indiana, later on Friday, Obama kept up his efforts to link McCain to unpopular President George Bush, joking his opponent did not have a problem deciding what Halloween costume to wear.

”Just like every year, he’s going as George Bush,” he said.

‘We’re hitting our stride’
McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, was campaigning in Pennsylvania, hoping to help McCain win a state that voted Democratic in the last four elections. Obama leads there but it is the one Democratic-leaning state that McCain aides think their man has a shot at stealing.

Palin told Reuters in a telephone interview that ”we’re hitting our stride now”.

”I’m a runner so I know what this feels like, and what it’s supposed to feel like at the right time, where you’re getting your second wind. Now is the time and I’m confident this new movement we’re feeling will lead us to victory,” she said.

The McCain and Obama camps held duelling conference calls to give their opinions on what is happening at the end of an election year that has seen its share of dramatic finishes and unpredictable turns.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the Obama campaign would resume running advertisements in two states in which it had stopped broadcasting, Georgia and North Dakota, and would run ads even in McCain’s home state of Arizona.

”We have organisations in all three of these states. The early vote numbers in Georgia are highly encouraging. We’ve seen movement in both North Dakota and Arizona,” Plouffe said.

He said Obama felt confident about keeping all the states that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won in 2004 and was running strong in several states — Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia — that helped propel Bush to victory that year.

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis differed, saying ”we’re pretty jazzed up” about some recent movement toward McCain in the polls.

”Obviously, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in the course of this race, and the one that has been the standard that the McCain campaign has created is that we fight back. And we are witnessing, I believe, probably one of the greatest comebacks that you’ve seen,” Davis said. — Reuters

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