Democrat Barack Obama planned a speech Monday in battleground state Ohio to sum up America's long presidential campaign, declaring Republican John McCain had campaigned for 21 months without telling voters how he would change the policies of unpopular President George W. Bush.
With the election just about a week away, McCain vowed a comeback even as national and state polls showed his path to victory is growing steeper. Obama is projected as near or above the 270 electoral votes needed to become the 44th U.S. president and the first African American to hold the job. The presidency is won state-by-state, with a state's number of electoral votes roughly tied to its population.
The 47-year-old Illinois senator _ widely favored in the polls as best qualified to stop America's accelerating economic decline _ revealed plans for the bold summing up in the campaign's final week after drawing huge crowds Sunday in Colorado, a state that voted twice for Bush but where most polls now show Obama holding a lead.
"In his speech, Senator Obama will tell voters that after twenty-one months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy," his campaign said in announcing what it called a "closing argument" speech in Canton, Ohio.
McCain, going from Iowa to Ohio on Sunday, said in an NBC television interview that "We've closed in the last week. We'll continue to be very competitive in many of the battleground states."
The former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war dismissed troubling poll numbers, declaring he could "guarantee you that two weeks from now you will see this has been a very close race. And I believe that I'm going to win it."
Still, McCain was being forced to fight to hold Republican-leaning states while Obama was focused on what should be his opponent's turf, spending the last week of the campaign mainly in states that Bush won four years ago.
In Colorado, for example, Obama drew huge crowds, with attendance at a Denver rally estimated at more than 100,000.
He seized on McCain's statement earlier in the day that he and Bush _ as fellow Republicans _ shared some aspects of economic philosophy.
"We know what the Bush-McCain philosophy looks like," Obama said. "It's a philosophy that says we should give more and more to millionaires and billionaires and hope that it trickles down."
McCain began the day in Iowa, a Midwestern state where he is looking to make up lost ground. His aides argue the state is closer than the public polling shows. At a noisy rally before 2,000 people in Cedar Falls, McCain argued that voters should elect him president to create a check on a Democratic Congress that he says is determined to increase taxes and the size of government.
"That's what's going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington," McCain said, speaking of higher taxes and a bloated federal bureaucracy. "We can't let that happen."
He then moved on to two rallies in Ohio, a state that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and has become vastly important for both candidates because it could guarantee Obama's victory. Since Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio, where voters have selected the eventual winner in the past 11 presidential elections.
A poll by Ohio's eight largest newspapers now shows Obama leading McCain there by 3 percentage points, 49-46. Last month, the poll showed McCain with a 6-point lead.
In the NBC interview, McCain rejected the notion that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is unqualified to be president and is hurting the campaign.
"I don't defend her. I praise her. She is exactly what Washington needs," he said.
He also dismissed criticism about the Republican Party spending $150,000 on her wardrobe at high-end retailers.
"She lives a frugal life. She and her family are not wealthy. She and her family were thrust into this, and there was some _ and some third of that money is given back, the rest will be donated to charity," he said.
Tracey Schmitt, Palin's campaign spokeswoman, said a third of the clothing was returned after the Republican National Convention in September, and "many of the remaining clothes have never been worn."
Palin, meanwhile, was making another push to sway voters in the battleground state of Florida, where polls show McCain narrowly trailing Obama in the fight for the state's 27 electoral votes. Bush captured Florida to win the disputed 2000 election and carried the state again in 2004.
"You kinda get the feeling that the Obama campaign thinks this whole election process is just a formality," she said, accusing the Democratic ticket of overconfidence. "They've overlooked, though, the minor detail of earning your confidence and your trust and winning your vote."
Florida, like Ohio, is critically important to both candidates as a populous swing state.
As newspapers made their presidential endorsements, the largest daily paper in Palin's home state declared it was backing Obama.
"The election, after all is said and done, is not about Sarah Palin, and our sober view is that her running mate, Sen. John McCain, is the wrong choice for president at this critical time for our nation," the Anchorage Daily News wrote.