Campaigns sprint to finish

Their messages spare and urgent, Barack Obama and John McCain implored uncertain voters to move their way and beseeched the convinced to cast ballots as they barreled Sunday through a swath of battleground states.

Two days before the presidential election is no time to start new arguments, so each man stuck to the basics. McCain, struggling to come from behind, hit Obama on taxes and national security and raised the specter of disaster if Democrats control Congress and the White House.

“There's just two days left, we're a couple of points behind in Pennsylvania — the pundits have written us off just like they've done before,” McCain told about 2,000 supporters in a high school gymnasium in the Philadelphia suburb of Wallingford. But, he suggested, reports of his demise were premature.

“My friends, the Mac is back.”

Obama, trying to expand his lead, restated his early opposition to the Iraq war, insisted he was best positioned to help the middle class and said that McCain would pursue the same policies that have led to economic disarray.

“Go vote right now,” Obama told more than 60,000 people outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. “Do not be late.”

Both campaigns and their allies also pressed negative messages, some of them out of public view. The Republican Party unleashed automated phone calls using the words of Democratic primary opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton against Obama, and a GOP group aired television ads featuring Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama's campaign aired ads tying McCain to the unpopular duo of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and it sent mailers highlighting the Republican's plan to tax health care benefits.

Surveys released Sunday showed the difficulty the Arizona senator faces as he tries to reverse the race's trajectory. Some surveys showed the race tightening in key states, but McCain would have to win all of them to turn the tide from Obama.

Across the battleground states, voters were under siege. Phones rang off the hook with appeals. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers and activists rang doorbells and left voting information.

Obama campaign officials said they expected 1 million volunteers to canvas voters on Election Day. That figure does not include hundreds of thousands of additional partisans from labor and other Democratic organizations.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, McCain campaign chief Rick Davis said McCain partisans were making 5 million calls this week.

“I think that what we're in for is a slam-bang finish,” Davis said.

Although the campaigns were furiously working to turn out the vote, the nearing end was obvious. McCain has spun off some of his most fiery speeches in recent days, to the roar of appreciative crowds. His venture onto “Saturday Night Live” unearthed the self-deprecating candidate rarely seen in the past several months.

Obama's appearances Sunday had the air of imminent victory, even if it was not quite believed. There were glimpses of the history that would be made if he were elected, as when his wife, Michelle, spoke of supporters who, teary, told her that they thought they would never live to see a black man elected president.