Democrat Barack Obama opened a campaign blitz in battleground Florida on Monday, the endorsement of former Secretary of State Colin Powell while Republican John McCain was defending his turf in bellwether Missouri.
With two weeks left to the Nov. 4 election, Obama promised a Tampa, Florida, audience he would halt home mortgage foreclosures in their tracks and updated a famous Ronald Reagan line to criticize Republican handling of the nation's deepening economic distress.
"At this rate, the question isn't just `Are you better off than you were four years ago?', it's `Are you better off than you were four weeks ago?"' Obama told the raucous crowd of 8,000.
Voters are consumed with anxieties over chaos in the financial system that has wiped out billions in retirement savings, sent home mortgage foreclosures to near record levels and produced an economic nosedive that many fear could mean a deep and prolonged recession. The economic turmoil has played to Obama's favor, as McCain has turned in what has been perceived as an unsteady performance on economic issues.
In an October 1980 debate with incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, Reagan asked listeners, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Reagan went on to oust Carter in that presidential election.
Obama set aside two full days to campaign across Florida, which twice went for Republican George W. Bush and now figures prominently in the Democrat's hopes for clinching the presidency. Obama's swing through central and south Florida was timed to coincide with Monday's opening of early voting statewide.
McCain, meanwhile, spoke to a weekday crowd of 2,000 in St. Louis, Missouri, where he and supporters branded Obama a liberal and criticized feminists and the media as they rallied their conservative base in hotly contested Missouri. Obama drew 100,000 in St. Louis on Saturday.
In a stump speech sharpened for the second week in a row, the Republican presidential candidate defended his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, against attacks from the "feminist left." And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, introduced McCain by declaring him under siege by the "liberal elite media."
"John's been there and he's met a little tougher people in his life than the liberal media," Graham said, alluding to McCain's years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Accusations of socialism
The McCain campaign, while continuing character attacks on Obama for his association with a Vietnam war-era radical, now is focusing on Obama's tax plan.
"I think his plans are for redistribution of wealth. That's one of the tenets of socialism," McCain told Fox News on Sunday, claiming it was a historic position of liberal Democrats and that small businesses would be forced to cut jobs while Obama would raise their taxes.
Palin repeated her running mate's sentiment at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., telling an audience of several thousand people that Obama would not only raise their taxes, but spend the money in a way that could hurt the economy.
"What that means is government taking your money and spreading it out wherever politicians see fit. That's not good for the economy," she said.
Obama's distinct financial advantage and heavy advertising nationwide are believed to have aided him in putting traditionally Republican states in play this year, forcing McCain on the defensive in the final two weeks of the campaign in places like Missouri.
On Sunday, Obama notched the endorsement of Powell, a retired general who was chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as secretary of state to Bush, while the Illinois senator's campaign reported raking in a record-shattering $150 million in campaign donations last month. The backing of Powell, a moderate Republican, was viewed as a blow to McCain's attempts to paint Obama as unready to serve as commander in chief of the U.S. military.
Obama told NBC television Monday that Powell was welcome to campaign for him and might have a place in his administration. He said Powell "will have a role as one of my advisers" and that a formal role in his government was "something we'd have to discuss."
While Obama said he would welcome Powell on the campaign trail, Powell said he had no plans for that.
"I won't lie to you, I would love to have him at any stop," Obama said with a grin Monday. "Obviously, if he wants to show up he's got an open invitation."
McCain's fundraising haul
McCain reported on Monday that his campaign spent $37 million in September, leaving $47 million available for October. McCain is no longer raising funds because he is participating in the presidential election public financing system. That restricts his spending to $84 million between early September and Election Day Nov. 4. Obama is not accepting public money and is therefore free to raise — and spend — as much as he wants.
A Suffolk University poll of 600 likely voters in Ohio, an important battleground state, showed Obama leading McCain by 9 percentage points, 51-42. The survey, released on Monday, had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. In Missouri, which is also in play, the organization showed the candidates about even, McCain 45 percent, Obama 44 percent with the same margin of error. The latest CNN-Opinion Research Corp. national survey of 746 likely voters showed Obama's lead narrowing to 6 points, 49-43. The previous poll by the organizations gave the Illinois senator an 11-point margin.
Monday's Gallup Poll daily tracking survey showed Obama leading McCain nationally by 11 percentage points, 52-41, a continuing uptick after declining to as little as six points last week.
Obama was pouring heavy resources into Florida this week, planning appearances there with his wife, Michelle, as well as primary campaign opponents Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The state, where most polls show Obama with a narrow lead, was key to President George W. Bush's disputed 2000 victory over former Vice President Al Gore.