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Obama 'closing argument': national unity

The Democratic candidate on Monday compared his Republican rival to the unpopular president in a final week's campaign speech in battleground Ohio.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat Barack Obama began the final week of America's extended presidential campaign in battleground Ohio on Monday, lashing Republican John McCain in a "closing argument" as little more than a clone of unpopular President George W. Bush.

Promising a comeback victory, McCain also was in Ohio, repeating his charge that Obama was a tax-and-spend liberal.

In Cleveland, the biggest Ohio city, McCain said Obama had plans for "a trillion dollars of new spending." Having said over the weekend that he and Bush, as fellow Republicans, share some economic philosophies, he reversed himself Monday.

"We (Obama and McCain) both disagree with President Bush on economic policies. My approach is to get spending under control," McCain said. McCain added that the difference between himself and Obama was that "he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high."

McCain, claiming he would create millions of jobs, protect savings and get the stock market rising again, spoke after a meeting with economic advisers. They included former rival Mitt Romney and former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp.

The weakening U.S. economy has hurt McCain, who has seen his support flagging in national and state polls, forcing him to defend states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida — regions once seen as solidly Republican but now shading toward Obama.

Later Monday, McCain was traveling to neighboring Pennsylvania, where Obama leads but McCain is bidding for an upset.

Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, 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.

McCain running mate Sarah Palin, meanwhile, told a cheering crowd in Virginia that Obama would raise taxes and "punish hard work" if voters in the state broke a 44-year preference for Republican presidents. Polls show Obama leading in Virginia by about 8 percentage points.

Palin also tried to burnish her foreign policy credentials by meeting in Leesburg, Virginia, with Israel's ambassador to the United States, apologizing for the session's delay.

"We look forward to ... working with your Jewish agency," she told Ambassador Sallai Meridor just before her speech outside Washington. Israel was established in 1948 as the Jewish homeland but has a secular, elected government.

Israeli embassy officials said Palin and Meridor discussed relations between the United States and Israel and the Iranian nuclear threat. They added that Meridor also discussed ongoing peace efforts in the Middle East and noted that he was to talk with Palin's Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden, later Monday.

In his Canton, Ohio, summing-up, Obama will make a pitch for national unity in a time of extreme partisanship.

"In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope," Obama planned to say, according speech excerpts released by his campaign.

But partisanship holds its place in the message, as Obama hits McCain as a candidate of the past.

"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," the 47-year-old Democrat says. "Senator McCain says that we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years."

Obama — widely favored in the polls as best qualified to cope with America's boiling economic crisis — planned the bold summing up after drawing huge crowds Sunday in Colorado, a state that voted twice for Bush but where most polls now show Obama with a lead. On Wednesday, he will air a 30-minute commercial on national broadcast networks in a bid to sway independent voters, an estimated 25 percent of the American electorate.

Discounting Obama as overly confident, McCain said in an NBC television interview Sunday, that his campaign had picked up strength last week and that "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."

Even so, Obama drew huge crowds the same day. More than 100,000 people turned out in Denver, the capital of Colorado, a traditionally Republican bastion, where Obama seized on McCain's statement 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 Sunday 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."

Monday's focus on Ohio, where a poll by Ohio's eight largest newspapers now shows Obama leading McCain there by 3 percentage points, 49-46, shone a bright light on McCain's troubles. Last month, McCain held a 6-point lead in the state that voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, according to the same poll.

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.