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Obama, McCain begin closing arguments

Obama, McCain begin closing arguments

Buoyed by a huge fund-raising advantage and a steady lead in national polls, Democrat Barack Obama began his closing argument for the presidency Saturday with an optimistic message that his economic policies will bring better days for hard-pressed middle-class Americans.
Republican John McCain sought to raise doubts about his rival's tax policies and readiness to be commander in chief as he fought desperately to stem losses in traditionally Republican-leaning states on the next-to-last weekend of the testy presidential race.
Both campaigns focused on western states 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 considered still in play to varying degrees _ Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico _ could be vital if the electoral math gets tight.
But time is running out for McCain who acknowledges that he is trailing in the polls and needs to mount a comeback.
A Newsweek poll of registered voters showed Obama with 53 percent to McCain's 40 percent. The poll found 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.
Obama was resuming his campaign in Nevada on Saturday with rallies in Reno and Las Vegas before holding one at night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and plans to head to Colorado on Sunday. The Democrat put aside political events on Thursday night and Friday to spend time with his grandmother in Hawaii, whom he described as gravely ill.
Obama's 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. He is holding rallies in Albuquerque and in Mesilla, farther south.
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 in Iowa on Saturday.
The Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden was campaigning Saturday in Virginia, where polls show Obama leading in a state last won by a Democratic presidential candidate in 1964.
Obama, a senator from Illinois, unveiled a two-minute TV ad that asks, "Will our country be better off four years from now?"
"At this defining moment in our history, the question is not, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?'" Obama says in the ad. "We all know the answer to that." Without mentioning McCain, the ad promotes Obama's economic policies while saying that Obama will work to end "mindless partisanship" and "divisiveness."
The length of the ad, which will start airing in key states Sunday, highlights Obama's fundraising superiority _ most campaign commercials run 30 seconds or a minute.
McCain, a senator from Arizona, used his weekly radio address Saturday to attack 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.
"As he told Joe the Plumber back in Ohio, he wants to quote 'spread the wealth around,' " McCain said of Obama.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, released a TV ad Saturday questioning whether Obama has the experience to be president. The ad, featuring the image of a stormy ocean, says the nation is in "uncertain times" that could get worse and asks whether voters want a president "who's untested at the helm."
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. Obama counters that he would lower taxes for most wage-earners and that McCain's tax plan favors wealthy corporations.
Polls show the path to the winning tally of 270 electoral votes is tricky for McCain, a Republican weighed down by the economic crisis and an unpopular incumbent president.
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.
Obama, wary of overconfidence among his backers, is charting multiple winning paths.
That's where 19 electoral votes in three closely contested Western states factor into the equation.
Nevada, with five votes, is posing the toughest challenge for Obama; the race is a tossup. Colorado is competitive, though Obama has a slight edge in polls in the state that offers nine votes. Obama is more deeply favored to win New Mexico's five votes.
President George W. Bush carried all three states in 2004. Obama is focusing his time on plucking away states Bush won four years ago while McCain is playing defense.
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.
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.
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.
Michelle Obama delivered the Democrats' weekly radio address on behalf of her husband Saturday. 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.
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, but he is not sure whether she will make it to Election Day. Her brother has said she recently fell and broke her hip.
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.
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