Scrambling to win the West, Democrat Barack Obama mocked John McCain on Saturday for trying to distance himself from fellow Republican President Bush. McCain touted his Western ties and countered that Obama is a tax-and-spend threat to the nation.
Ten days before the election, both candidates were targeting the same trio of states — Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Any of them could help shape who wins the presidency.
The flurry of appearances by Obama and McCain likely represent the last time in a long, testy campaign that the toss-up territory of the West will get this much attention. Electoral prizes of the East Coast, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, will soon take command.
Obama recharged his habit of lumping McCain with the unpopular president of his own party. McCain has outspokenly blamed Bush's leadership for the country's woes in recent days.
Obama said it was too late for McCain to portray himself as independent from Bush after standing with him for years. McCain has a mixed record of supporting and bucking Bush.
Real change, Obama said, is "not somebody who's trying to break with his president over the last 10 days after having supporting him for the last eight years."
War of words
As the front-running Obama campaigned at a baseball stadium, McCain was at an outdoor rally at the New Mexico state fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The Arizona Republican claimed a home-court edge in crucial battleground states in the region, calling himself "a fellow Westerner."
"Sen. Obama has never been south of the border," said McCain, arguing that he has a feel for issues like water that resonate throughout the region. Obama's campaign said Obama has, in fact, been to Mexico before he got into public office.
McCain continued to portray Obama, an Illinois senator, as a tax-and-spend liberal certain to push for more government and higher spending.
"He believes in redistributing wealth," McCain said. "That's not America."
McCain proclaimed deep knowledge of subjects that resonate in the West.
"I know the issues, I know land, I know water, I know native American issues," said McCain, speaking at a sun-splashed rally in Mesilla, N.M. "I know how Western states are growing with dynamic strength. Senator Obama does not understand these issues."
His running mate, Sarah Palin, evoked the same theme while campaigning Saturday in Sioux City, Iowa.
While she spoke, the crowd at her rally cried out about Obama: "He's a socialist."
Obama, meanwhile, continued to use his massive fundraising advantage. On Sunday, the Illinois senator planned to unveil a two-minute TV ad that asks, "Will our country be better off four years from now?"
The length of the ad, which will air in key states, highlights Obama's fundraising superiority; most campaign commercials run 30 seconds or a minute.
Without mentioning McCain, the ad promotes Obama's economic policies while saying that Obama will work to end "mindless partisanship" and "divisiveness."
The Republican National Committee on Saturday released its own TV ad questioning Obama's experience. The spot, 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."
In competitive Virginia, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said Americans have been "knocked down" by Bush's economic policies. "It's time for us to get back up," he said. "It's time for us together to get back up and demand the change we need."
The West, once reliable Republican territory, has seen its politics and demographics shift over the last decade. Bush narrowly won Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico four years ago and Democrats see them and their 19 electoral votes as a real opportunity.
There was a glitch in Reno, though. A generator at Obama's rally apparently failed, killing power and cutting off his microphone. Obama said someone from the McCain campaign may have pulled the plug on the rally — but quickly added he was kidding.
Later, at a rally at a high school football field in Las Vegas, Obama said: "We're not going to let George Bush pass the torch to John McCain."
Obama resumed his campaign in Nevada after spending Thursday night and Friday in Hawaii with his grandmother, who is gravely ill.
Despite sour polls, McCain pledged a scrappy close to the campaign.
"We're a few points down and the pundits, of course, as they have four or five times, have written us off," said McCain. "We've got them just where we want them."
McCain was headed briefly to El Paso, Texas, before moving on to Iowa where he's looking to make up for some lost ground in a state campaign aides argue is closer than the public polling shows. McCain was to appear Sunday on "Meet the Press" and hold a campaign rally.
Obama is campaigning on Sunday in Colorado.