John McCain bused through Ohio in search of votes Friday while Barack Obama broadened his quest to win traditionally Republican states by buying TV ads in McCain's Arizona for the first time and returning to the airwaves in Georgia and North Dakota.
Obama tapped his vast campaign war chest to venture into the three traditional “red” states because polls have found him competitive in each.
Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, indicated in a conference call Friday that he thinks the prospects of victory in Georgia, with the help of black and young voters, are more likely than a win in Arizona because of McCain's support in his home state.
However, he said, support from Hispanics and some suburban voters in Arizona, which has a Democratic governor, could make the election close.
“It's enough in the realm of possibility that we want to put a little extra effort in the end,” Plouffe said. “We're just going to give it a go in the last three or four days and see how close we can get it.”
Obama's campaign is willing to venture onto McCain's turf, but it intends to tread lightly. Officials said the Arizona ad would be positive, a calculation to avoid a backlash from voters sympathetic to McCain. The Georgia and North Dakota ads will be critical of McCain.
Obama won't campaign in the three states in the final days leading to Election Day on Tuesday, appearing instead in North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and other battleground states.
McCain campaign officials, on a conference call Friday, called the Obama TV buy a waste of money.
“We encourage them to spend their campaign cash as much as they can,” McCain political director Mike DuHaime said. “Those aren't very expensive states, so (it) won't add a whole lot to their buy.”
With national polls showing him behind by anywhere from 3 percentage points (Fox News) to 11 points (CBS News/New York Times), McCain's campaign offered an upbeat assessment of its candidate's performance and chances.
Campaign manager Rick Davis said McCain was poised for “probably one of the greatest comebacks that you've seen since John McCain won the primary.”
“One thing that's clear is that we've established some momentum and we've made gains in virtually every battleground state. We think we've shaken off the effects of the financial collapse that suppressed our numbers prior to the last debate.”
Davis said McCain had gained enough ground that he was forcing Obama to revisit states such as Iowa that were thought to be securely in his camp. Obama returned Thursday to Iowa, the site of his first win in January, which catapulted him past Hillary Clinton.
McCain focused on Ohio, finishing a two-day bus tour of the state with star power in tow: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in Hanoverton and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Columbus.
In introducing McCain, Schwarzenegger, a former global body-building champion before he became a movie star and then governor, accused Obama of being light in build and soft in policy.
“He needs to do something about those skinny legs, make him do some squats,” Schwarzenegger said. “And give him some bicep curls to beef up those scrawny little arms. If only you could give (him) something to put meat on his ideas.”
At the Columbus rally, a giant curtain hid an empty half of the arena. The upper deck on one side was also empty.
McCain pressed a new line against Obama, telling the Hanoverton rally that Obama “began his campaign in the liberal left lane of politics and has never left it.”
“He's more liberal than a senator who calls himself a socialist,” McCain said, referring to Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent.
Obama said in Des Moines that McCain had called him every name in the book, “everything but a child of God,” and charged that ambition has changed McCain's sense of decency since his failed 2000 campaign against President Bush for the GOP nomination.
“A couple of elections ago, there was a presidential candidate who decried this kind of politics and condemned these kinds of tactics, and I admired him for it,” Obama told a rally that drew 25,000.
“He said, ‘I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land.' Those words were spoken eight years ago by my opponent, John McCain. But the high road didn't lead him to the White House then, so this time he decided to take a different route.”