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Obama, McCain target the West's toss-up states

Obama, McCain target the West's toss-up states

Barack Obama and John McCain venture into the next-to-last weekend of their testy presidential campaign with the same target _ winning states in the western U.S. that could be vital on election day.
Obama was resuming his campaign Saturday after putting aside political events Thursday night and Friday to spend time in Hawaii with his grandmother, who he has described as gravely ill. He'll be holding two rallies in Nevada Saturday before heading to New Mexico.
McCain, pivoting from his three stops in Colorado on Friday, will also be pushing hard in New Mexico on Saturday.
Once reliable Republican territory, much of the West has seen its politics and demographics shift over the last decade as the Hispanic population, which tends to favor Democrats, has grown.
Three states that went to President George W. Bush in 2004 are considered still in play to varying degrees _ Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico _ and could be key if the election gets tight.
As the collapsing economy consumes voter attention, McCain has seized a line of attack that Obama is poised to deepen the problem by raising taxes. He said Friday in Denver that Obama won't target the rich but rather the middle class by putting it "through the wringer."
"The answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that is exactly what is going to happen when the Democrats have total control in Washington," McCain said.
Obama has proposed a tax increase on the 5 percent of taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year and advocates tax cuts for those who make less.
The Arizona senator ridiculed the idea that any tax increases would be narrowly targeted and, at the same time, sought to link Obama to the unpopular Congress.
Obama has countered that McCain's tax plan favors wealthy corporations and has described the longtime Arizona senator as being out of time and ideas.
The meltdown in financial markets and the national economic downturn have helped undermine McCain's standing in the polls because Obama is viewed more favorably than McCain on handling economic issues.
The economy has almost eclipsed foreign issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with voters, and putting McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam whose strength had been considered his foreign policy experience, at a disadvantage.
New surveys have shown Obama's lead growing in key battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The winner of the U.S. election is not determined by the popular vote, but instead by a state-by-state tally of electoral votes, making certain states key to a Nov. 4 victory.
The winner needs 270 electoral votes in order to be elected, and polls show the path to a win is tricker for McCain, who's weighed down by the economic crisis and an unpopular incumbent president.
In the traditionally Republican state of West Virginia, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said Friday that McCain would need a Halloween costume to persuade voters that he would depart from the policies and divisive politics of President George W. Bush.
"I know Halloween is coming, but John McCain as the candidate of change? Whoa, come on," Biden said during an outdoor rally in the capital city's downtown. "John McCain and change? He needs a costume for that. Folks, the American people aren't going to buy this."
However, McCain has mounted comebacks before, such as last year when his campaign seemed all but over even before the first primaries. But political momentum can change fast, and McCain was able to regroup and eventually become the nominee.
Obama, wary of overconfidence among his backers, is focusing his time this weekend on plucking away three states Bush won four years ago.
The Illinois Senator took a risk in leaving the campaign trail so close to the election to fly to Hawaii. His lead is hardly insurmountable. But it could also help voters see a more personal side of Obama, who has been criticized at times for seeming aloof.
Obama said his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, 85, is ill but alert. Her brother has said she recently fell and broke her hip.
"Without going through the details too much, she's gravely ill. We weren't sure and I'm still not sure whether she makes it to Election Day," Obama told ABC television in an interview broadcast Friday.
Meanwhile, McCain has seen media attention sidetracked by revelations that the Republican Party bought $150,000 in clothes, hair styling and accessories for Sarah Palin and her family.
In addition to the clothes, an acclaimed celebrity makeup artist for Palin collected more money from McCain's campaign than his foreign policy adviser.
Amy Strozzi, who works on the reality show "So You Think You Can Dance" and has been Palin's traveling stylist, was paid $22,800, according to campaign finance reports for the first two weeks in October. McCain's campaign said the payment covered a portion of her work in September and a portion of October. In contrast, McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was paid $12,500, the report showed.
During an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Palin blamed gender bias for the controversy, saying male candidates' hair and wardrobes are rarely an issue.
"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 has said the clothes will be donated to charity after the campaign.
On Friday Palin testified for two hours in an investigation into whether Palin abused her power by pressuring a state official to fire her former brother-in-law who was divorcing Palin's sister.
Earlier this month in a stinging but largely toothless legislative report found she violated state ethics laws by letting a family dispute influence her decision-making.
A similar investigation is now being conducted by the Alaska Personnel Board, which Palin hopes will clear her of wrongdoing.
"I am so pleased to finally have gotten the chance to tell what really happened and get the truth out," Palin said in a statement released by her attorney. "It was the right thing to do to bring this before the Personnel Board and have a true arms length unbiased and apolitical investigator look into this."
Joe McCain also drew some likely unwanted attention to his brother Friday when he said he'd be leaving the campaign after it was made public that he had called a police number reserved for emergencies to complain about traffic on his way home from a campaign event on Oct. 21. After calling the emergency number, he then called police in Alexandria, Virginia to also complain about the traffic.
"I feel terrible about having hurt the campaign over this incident," he said. "I won't be doing any more campaigning because of that."