Republican John McCain declared "I'm going to win it," dismissing polls showing him behind with little more than a week to go in the presidential race. A confident Democrat Barack Obama drew a jaw-dropping 100,000 people to a single rally and rolled out a new TV ad asserting his rival is "running out of time."
Heading into the final nine days of the 2008 contest, the White House competitors campaigned in key battlegrounds that President Bush won four years ago as the state-by-state Electoral College map tilts strongly in Obama's favor. Democrats and Republicans alike say it will be extraordinarily difficult for McCain to change the trajectory of the campaign before the Nov. 4 election.
"Unfortunately, I think John McCain might be added to that long list of Arizonans who ran for president but were never elected," McCain's fellow senator from Arizona, Republican Jon Kyl, told the Arizona Daily Star editorial board in an interview published Sunday. Kyl told The Associated Press later Sunday that the Star article "totally misrepresented" his position.
The candidates sparred from a distance, each criticizing the other anew in hopes of swaying the roughly one-fourth of voters who are undecided or could still change their minds. The campaign trail images and rhetoric said perhaps more about the state of the race than any poll could.
In Colorado, Obama reveled in his largest U.S. crowd to date, with local police estimating that "well over" 100,000 people packed Denver's Civic Center Park and stretched even to the distant steps of the state Capitol. The enthusiastic sea of people prompted a "goodness gracious" from Obama as he took the stage. Another enormous swarm — an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 — greeted him in Fort Collins later on the perhaps aptly named Colorado State University lawn; it's known as "The Oval."
At each rambunctious stop Obama portrayed McCain as more of the same, saying, "For eight years, we've seen the Bush-McCain philosophy put our country on the wrong track, and we cannot have another four years that look just like the last eight."
In Cedar Falls, Iowa, McCain campaigned before a much smaller audience, roughly 2,000 people, and chided his Democratic rival: "He's measuring the drapes. ... I prefer to let voters have their say. What America needs now is someone who will finish the race before starting the victory lap."
Later, amid 5,000 people in Zanesville, Ohio, McCain warned of the perils of one-party rule, targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as vigorously as Obama. "You can imagine Obama, Reid and Pelosi," McCain said. "Tax and spend, tax and spend."
As the day began, McCain cast Obama as too liberal for a right-of-center country: ''He started out in the left-hand lane of American politics and has remained there."
With the race drawing to a close, Obama is working to solidify his lead in national and key state surveys, while McCain is looking for a comeback. The political environment has become increasingly favorable for Democrats and challenging for Republicans as the global economic crisis dominates the campaign.
In coming days, both candidates will focus primarily on Bush-won, vote-rich battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida, which decided the last two presidential elections and could do so again.
Pennsylvania is the only state that Democrat John Kerry won four years ago that both candidates are expected to visit before Election Day. With 21 electoral votes, it hasn't voted for a Republican president since 1988, but McCain is aggressively courting white, working-class voters who overwhelmingly chose Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary over Obama, who would become the country's first black president.
Obama's campaign was exuding optimism though leaving nothing to chance.
The Democrat hit McCain with the fresh ad, to air on national cable stations, that says he has "no plan to lift our economy up" and, thus, is tearing down Obama with "scare tactics and smears." It says McCain is "out of ideas, out of touch, and running out of time."
The Illinois senator was spending the next four days in GOP-held Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, with a quick stop in Pennsylvania.
Aides say Obama will lay out his closing argument in a speech Monday in Canton, Ohio. Behind the scenes, advisers were preparing the 30-minute advertisement he planned to air Wednesday on national TV networks as part of that last pitch, and also were mapping the transition to the White House.
McCain was trying to stay focused on his uphill battle amid new distractions.
Over the past few days, there has been finger-pointing inside the GOP over who is to blame for McCain's struggles; reports of friction between his top advisers and aides for running mate Sarah Palin; and the continued fallout of the Republican National Committee's $150,000 purchase of high-end clothing for the Alaska governor and her family.
Palin has insisted that she and her family live frugally. To emphasize her point Sunday night, she wore jeans at an event in Asheville, N.C.
In the TV interview, McCain dismissed the Palin wardrobe flap and said many of the clothing items were immediately returned. Aides said that was for a variety of reasons, including the wrong sizes, and said the rest will be donated to charity.
"I don't defend her. I praise her. She is exactly what Washington needs," McCain said. He also said of the race: "We're going to win it, and it's going to be tight, and we're going to be up late" on election night. And, he worked anew to distance himself from the unpopular Bush.
"The fact is I am not George Bush," McCain said. Then, he added: "Do we share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? Of course."
Obama pounced on that comment, telling his Denver audience, "I guess that was John McCain finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common."
He noted that Bush already has cast his vote for McCain and said, "We're not going to let George Bush pass the torch to John McCain."