Obama's bid for a knockout blow, delivered in the vitally competitive state of Ohio, was not bare-knuckled. Rather, buoyed by front-runner status and frenetic crowds, Obama used the moment to get beyond the sparring with John McCain and restore a theme of inspiration.
"In one week, we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo," Obama said. "In one week, we can come together as one nation, and one people, and once more choose our better history. That's what's at stake."
The speech also was aimed at positioning Obama as a statesman-in-waiting. His soaring language was a throwback to a time before the conversation drew more specific and ugly.
"The change we need isn't just about new programs and policies," Obama said to a roaring crowd at Canton's civic center. "It's about a new attitude, it's about new politics - a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts."
Polls shows Obama ahead, but in a tight race, with McCain in Ohio. No Democrat has won the presidency without the support of the state since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
With valuable campaign time slipping away, Obama and McCain both spent Monday mining for support in Ohio and neighboring Pennsylvania. Either state could swing the election.
Obama repeated his speech in Pittsburgh, where he was greeted by deafening cheers.
Broadening the language of his daily campaign routine, Obama tried to remind voters why he ran in the first place. He summoned all the rhetorical flair for which he has become known.
Obama spoke of restoring a sense of higher purpose to the country. He kicked up patriotic echoes of his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that put him on a national stage. He said America is about "seeing the highest mountaintop from the deepest of valleys."
To be sure, though, Obama took his shots at McCain. He accused his rival of resorting to smear tactics in a desperate attempt to win votes.
"Sen. McCain might be worried about losing an election, but I'm worried about Americans who are losing their homes, and their jobs, and their life savings," Obama said. "I can take one more week of John McCain's attacks, but this country can't take four more years of the same old politics and the same failed policies. It's time for something new."
McCain held his own campaign event in Ohio. In Cleveland, he told voters his economic plan would generate jobs, recharge the stock market and help people keep their homes.
The Republican candidate also ridiculed Obama's argument that his tax plan was based on fairness. "There's nothing fair about driving our economy into the ground and we all suffer when that happens," said McCain.
Obama has been fending off criticism that his plans to raise the tax rate on wealthier people - and his comment about redistributing wealth - amounts to socialism.
Obama shot back Monday that he wanted to offer help for the middle class, and make sure that businesses had customers who could afford to spend.
"That's how we've always grown the American economy - from the bottom-up," he said. "John McCain calls this socialism. I call it opportunity."
Obama also spelled out a foreign policy agenda that, again, painted him as a needed change from Bush and McCain. Such topics have been dwarfed by economic concerns for months.
Obama said flatly he would end the war in Iraq and restore America's moral standing.
"I will never hesitate to defend this nation," he said. "But I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle, and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home."
The campaign called Obama's speech nothing less than a closing argument. The jury is out, though, until the election on Nov 4., and McCain vows to pull out a late victory.
Before leaving Pittsburgh, Obama popped into a local campaign office and spoke by phone with voters after volunteers placed calls for him. He said later that four of the five people he talked to backed him; one voter who kept him on the phone a while remained unsure.
"We can't let up," Obama told the volunteers. "Let's close the deal."
Obama's message of hope came on the day federal law enforcement agents reported breaking up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate him and shoot or decapitate 88 black people. His campaign had no comment.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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