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, whom he has described as gravely ill.
The Democratic candidate will be holding two rallies in Nevada on Saturday before heading to New Mexico for an evening rally, and plans to campaign Sunday in Colorado. His emphasis is on getting supporters to vote early _ locking in votes that might not materialize if people get busy or stay home because of bad weather on Election Day, Nov. 4.
McCain, pivoting from his three stops in Colorado on Friday, will also be pushing hard in New Mexico on Saturday.
The Republican candidate heads to Iowa on Sunday, looking to make up for some lost ground in a Midwestern state his campaign aides argue is closer than the public polling shows. His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was set to swing through Iowa on Saturday.
But time is running out for McCain with a new national poll showing Obama consolidating his support. A Newsweek poll of registered voters showed Obama with 53 percent to McCain's 40 percent, and the Democrat was maintaining a similar lead among likely voters. The poll showed Obama leading in every age group and among men as well as women, and even holding a slim 46-to-44 percent edge among working-class whites.
The telephone poll, conducted from Oct. 22-23 with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points, also found that 62 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view of Obama.
State polls also showed Obama leading or competitive in once reliable Republican territory in much of the West. These states have seen their 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 in Denver that Obama won't target the rich but rather the middle class by putting it "through the wringer."
Obama counters that he would lower taxes for most wage-earners and that McCain's tax plan favors wealthy corporations. He has tagged McCain as being out of time and ideas.
Both campaigns issued weekly radio addresses Saturday that highlighted their strategies in the closing days of the campaign. McCain attacked Obama on taxes while again talking about Joe the Plumber, an Ohioan named Joe Wurzelbacher who has become the central thematic element in McCain's speeches.
Michelle Obama delivered the Democrats' weekly radio address. In it, she urged voters to the polls while reminiscing about tagging along with her father as a young girl while he worked to register voters.
The Obama campaign released a two-minute TV ad Saturday that asks, "Will our country be better off four years from now?" The ad, which will start airing in key states Sunday, promotes Obama's economic policies while saying that Obama will work to end "mindless partisanship" and "divisiveness."
The length of the ad highlights Obama's fundraising superiority as most campaign commercials run 30 seconds or a minute. Neither the ad nor Michelle Obama's radio address mentioned McCain.
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 Colorado on Friday, McCain sought to build more distance from Bush.
"We cannot spend the next four years as we have much of the last eight, hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad," McCain said. "We have to act, we need a new direction and we have to fight for it."
But in the Republican-leaning 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 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."
On Saturday, Biden was campaigning in Virginia, where polls show Obama leading in a state last won by a Democratic presidential candidate in 1964.
Obama, wary of overconfidence among his backers, is charting multiple winning paths.
That's where the 19 electoral votes in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico factor into the equation.
Obama could win the White House by hanging onto all the states that Sen. John Kerry won four years ago and then sweeping the three Western states getting attention this weekend.
Part of the West's demographic change includes larger numbers of Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic-leaning group that has posed a challenge for McCain. The most recent Gallup poll showed Obama leading among registered Hispanic voters, 61 percent to 29 percent.
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 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 the Illinois senator, 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.
Obama was born in Hawaii, where his Kansas-born mother and Kenyan father met as college students. Dunham and her husband, Stanley, raised Obama for extended periods when his mother lived overseas.
Meanwhile, McCain has seen media attention sidetracked by revelations that the Republican Party bought $150,000 in clothes, hair styling and accessories for 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.
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.
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