October 29, 2008

McCain Wages Fight ‘Behind His Own Front Lines’

By Kathy Kiely and David Jackson

They don't agree on many issues, but judging by their itineraries, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have similar tastes in travel destinations.

As the campaign draws to a close, both candidates plan to return to the same handful of states, such as Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico. It's a sign of the challenging times for the GOP that both candidates are mostly concentrating on states President Bush won in 2004. Obama is trying to raid Republican territory while McCain is playing defense.

"Clearly, McCain has given ground and is trying to hold things together" in Republican-leaning states, said Andy Taylor, a political scientist at North Carolina State University.

North Carolina isn't the kind of place a Republican presidential candidate wants to be days before the election, Taylor said. McCain is "fighting behind his own front lines here," rather than trying to claim new ground for the Republican Party, he said.

After speaking Tuesday in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, McCain headed back to Florida, where he will spend most of today.

"I'm not afraid of the fight. I'm ready for it," McCain said at an ice hockey arena in Fayetteville, N.C.

McCain senior adviser Charles Black said McCain is making the necessary stops.

"If you win all the red states, you win," he said.

Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, is confident that his candidate will be in the right places.

"We're just playing by the rules. It's about putting together the 270 electoral votes" needed to win, Plouffe said.

Obama, who stumped in Pennsylvania and Virginia on Tuesday, will move on to North Carolina and Florida. He will be joined part of the day by former president Bill Clinton. In addition, Obama will appear on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart tonight.

"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," Obama told the crowd that turned out in the rain to see him at Widener University near Philadelphia.

There are 538 Electoral College votes; it takes 270 to win the White House. At this point, the itineraries of McCain and Obama are all about picking up enough states to get them to that number.

Because the president is chosen by electors -- awarded in most states on a winner-take-all basis -- the race's final weeks become a frenzied effort to win battleground states, while swaths of the country are ignored. Of the states McCain and Obama have visited since Oct. 20, only two went for Democratic candidate John Kerry in 2004: New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Obama's fundraising and aggressive effort to win over Republican votes has put some states in play that had been ignored in past presidential campaigns. One example is Virginia, which Obama has visited twice in the past week.

The nation's most populous states have been left behind. "It feels like getting all dressed up for the prom and not having anybody to go with," says Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the Democratic Party in California. Obama has a wide lead in many state polls there, just as McCain leads in Texas polls.

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