Barack Obama and John McCain fought for votes Tuesday on critical ground in Pennsylvania, the only Democratic state McCain is still contesting on a national political map growing increasingly daunting. With just one week to go, GOP doubts about his chances for the presidency grew louder.
Even two Republicans once on McCain's short list for vice president sounded skeptical. In a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mitt Romney referred to "the very real possibility of an Obama presidency." In the Midwest, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a dour assessment of McCain's chances in his state, saying Obama "has a pretty good advantage in Minnesota right now."
Nationally, a poll by the Pew Research Center found Obama with a 16-point lead among registered voters. The survey said Obama had 52 percent and McCain 36 percent, with independent voters supporting the Democrat by a 48-31 margin.
The candidates kicked off their final week of campaigning in the southeastern corner of this battleground state, which hasn't supported a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years but where Obama is ahead in the polls. McCain is working for an upset and has had Pennsylvania as the linchpin to his victory strategy.
"I'm not afraid of the fight, I'm ready for it," McCain told noisy supporters at a rally in this Republican region that is home to the world's largest chocolate factory.
Obama's advisers say they are confident of victory in the state. Still, they sent the candidate to rally supporters in Pittsburgh Monday night and to the battleground Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday. About 9,000 people stood in the mud and a steady, cold rain at Widener University to hear him.
"I just want all of you to know that if we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we're not going to bring change to America," said Obama, uncharacteristically attired in jeans, sneakers and a raincoat. McCain canceled a second event 50 miles away in Quakertown because of the dismal weather.
McCain appeared with running mate Sarah Palin, who planned to stay in the state for another rally in Shippensburg. "Pennsylvania, it's going to be a hard-fought contest here," she said. "It's going to come down to the wire here."
If McCain doesn't win the state's 21 electoral votes, it's hard to see how he can win the presidency since Obama is expected to pick up several of the states that helped re-elect President Bush four years ago. McCain needs one of the blue states to make up for expected losses in the red ones.
Both presidential candidates were leaving Pennsylvania for later rallies in Republican strongholds that have turned into battleground states — McCain to North Carolina and Obama to Virginia. McCain is increasingly playing defense in states that have been reliably Republican, with the party buying ads in Montana and expanding its advertising in West Virginia.
Early voting in some swing states also appeared to be in Obama's favor. In North Carolina, for example, the turnout for early voting has been nearly a third higher than in 2004 and the number of Democrats has been close to double that of Republicans. Democratic voters in Florida have numbered about 100,000 more than Republicans, and Democrats also hold an edge so far in Colorado.
McCain told Pennsylvania voters he's the candidate ready to take office, after a military career and years as a prisoner of war. He hammered Obama as a traditional liberal Democrat seeking to redistribute wealth and even willing to displace America's favorite pastime with a 30-minute commercial Wednesday night.
"No one will delay a World Series game with an infomercial when I'm president," McCain said to loud applause.
He said Obama's promise not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 can't be trusted after his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, said in an interview with local television station WNEP that tax relief should only go to "middle-class people — people making under $150,000 a year."
"At this rate, it won't be long before Sen. Obama is right back to his vote that Americans making just $42,000 a year should get a tax increase," McCain said. "We can't let that happen. We won't let that happen."
Obama said a vote for McCain would be a vote for a third Bush term, arguing that their proposals are similar, especially on the economy.
"John McCain has ridden shotgun as George Bush has driven our economy toward a cliff, and now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas," Obama said.