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McCain, Obama begin final push in battleground states

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John McCain campaigs in Ohio
Republican presidential candidate John McCain speaks at a campaign rally at Trent Arena in Dayton, Ohio on October 27, 2008.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Eight days from the election, however, Republicans looked and sounded increasingly like a party anticipating defeat, and possibly a substantial one.

      McCain betrayed no such pessimism, assailing Obama as "the most liberal person ever to run for the presidency" and warning that Democrats would tax and spend the nation deeper into recession if they win the White House and keep control of Congress.

Barack Obama in Colorado
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama arrives at a rally at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, October 26, 2008.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

      Referring to Obama, he said, "We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high."

      Obama, running to become the nation's first black president, countered that when it comes to the economy, "John McCain has stood with this president every step of the way."

      He added, "The question in this election is not 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' We know the answer to that. The real question is, 'Will this country be better off four years from now?"'

      The polls suggest the country is leaning toward an Obama presidency. The Illinois senator runs ahead in the national surveys. He also holds an advantage in several polls measuring sentiment in states that voted for Bush four years ago, as well as at least one - Virginia - that last voted for a Democrat four decades ago.

      The candidates' travel plans underscored the Electoral College math.

John McCain in Ohio
Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) greets the crowd as he arrives to speak at a rally inside the Zanesville High School Gymnasium October 26, 2008 in Zanesville, Ohio.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

      With scarcely a week remaining, McCain remained largely pinned down in traditionally Republican states, trying to eke out a majority.

      By contrast, Obama's afternoon stop in Pittsburgh marked the first time in more than a week that he had bothered to visit a state that fellow Democrat John Kerry won four years ago.

      In a show of confidence, he has spent the rest of his campaign time in the past week or more in "red" states - Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio - as he reaches for a sizable triumph.

      Whatever doubt remained about the presidential race, only the size of Democratic gains seemed to be in question in the campaign for control of Congress.

      Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' conviction in a corruption trial in Washington gave fresh momentum to the Democrats' drive for a 60-seat Senate majority that would strengthen their ability to overcome Republican filibusters on key legislation.

Sarah Palin campaigs in Virginia
U.S. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (C) speaks during a rally in Fredricksburg, Virginia, on October 27, 2008.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

      McCain himself has endured numerous slights in recent days, including anonymous sniping between his aides and those of running mate Sarah Palin. That came on the heels of the disclosure that clothes and accessories totaling $150,000 had been purchased with donor funds for the Alaska governor and her family.

      McCain announced over the weekend that $50,000 worth of merchandise had been returned, and Palin pointedly told one crowd she was back to wearing duds from her "favorite consignment" store in Alaska.

      In another blow, fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl speculated openly over the weekend that McCain's candidacy may end in defeat.

      Ohio was Monday's battleground, with McCain campaigning in Cleveland and Dayton, while Obama was in Canton.

      Ohio has voted with the winner each time since 1964, and Bush's victory there sealed his second White House term four years ago. But the state turned Democratic two years later when Ted Strickland was elected governor, and Sherrod Brown unseated a Republican incumbent to win his Senate seat.

      Now public and private polls rate Obama the favorite, and dreary monthly jobless statistics show a statewide economy in trouble. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state has lost 92,000 jobs since February, and Ohio's unemployment, 7.2 percent of its work force, is well above the national rate of 6.1 percent.

      McCain met with economic advisers in the morning and then said he had plans to rejuvenate the economy.

      "To do this, we need pro-growth and pro-jobs economic policies, not pro-government spending programs paid for with higher taxes," he said in a slap at Obama.

      "My approach will lead to rising stock market prices, a stabilized housing market, economic growth and millions of new jobs," he said. "Sen. Obama's plans will destroy business growth, kill jobs and lead to continued declined in the stock market and make a recession even deeper and more painful."

      Obama responded a short while later with what aides said was the summation of his long quest for the White House.

      While part of it reprised his 21-month call for change, he also took time to try and link McCain with an unpopular Bush.

      "We've tried it John McCain's way. We've tried it George Bush's way," he said. "Deep down, Sen. McCain knows that, which is why his campaign said that `if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."'

 Candidates Barack Obama and John McCain will continue their stops in Pennsylvania Monday evening and Tuesday.

      Obama, the Democratic nominee, is speaking at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on Monday evening. He'll then cross the state to speak at Widener University in Chester on Tuesday morning.

      McCain, the Republican nominee, is attending a rally at the Pottsville School District in eastern Pennsylvania on Monday night.

      McCain and running mate Sarah Palin will be at a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey on Tuesday morning and then head to Quakertown for an afternoon rally in the baseball stadium in Memorial Park. Palin, the Alaska governor, is then scheduled to attend an event in Shippensburg on Tuesday afternoon and another one in State College on Tuesday night.

             (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)