Obama surges ahead as US prepares to vote

By Leonard Doyle
Monday 03 November 2008 01:00

Barack Obama is entering the home stretch of the race for the White House with an aggressive foray into traditionally Republican states, a sure indication that his campaign is in far better shape than the doomed efforts of his Democratic predecessors.

Senator Obama's final sprint took him from Colorado and Nevada on to the industrial battleground of Ohio, where the latest Mason Dixon poll shows him leading by47 per cent to 44. Accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, Mr Obama was making a final pitch to white blue-collar voters who make up 45 per cent of the electorate. Ohio is also a make-or-break state for John McCain, since no Republican has won the White House without capturing it.

In Ohio, Mr Obama chided his opponent in a television ad that mocked the Republican's endorsement by the deeply unpopular Vice-President Dick Cheney. "I'm delighted to support John McCain," Mr Cheney said in his home state of Wyoming before praising the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. In the Obama ad, the announcer says: "That's not the change we need." Today, Mr Obama begins a final dash for votes in the delegate-rich state of Florida. He then heads to the Republican bastion of North Carolina and intends to bring his epic campaign to a close with a late-night rally close to the Civil War battlefield of Manassas in Northern Virginia.

Mr Obama's confidence seems to be well justified by the polls. The latest Washington Post/ABC national tracking poll gave him a 9 percentage-point lead over John McCain. He is far ahead in enough states to capture more than the 270 electoral votes that he needs to win. In the Senate, Democrats are within reach of winning 60 seats for a filibuster-proof majority and in Congress they could double their 2006 wins to have the largest majority since 1990. In the dying hours of the campaign, Mr McCain has only one viable path to victory left. He needs to hold on to every battleground state and pick off a delegate-rich Democratic state such as Pennsylvania as well. However, the polls put his opponent so comfortably ahead there, that Mr Obama is not even bothering to campaign in person in the final countdown.

Another tactic the Republican side is employing is to warn wavering voters that a victory by Mr Obama will give Democrats unfettered control of the White House and Congress. They will use it to raise taxes, expand the government and fly the flag of surrender in the war on terror, at a time of crisis.

While the strain is clearly showing on Mr Obama's face, (he uncharacteristically snapped at reporters following him and his daughter to a Halloween party at the weekend) his opponent, despite his 72 years, is showing no signs of flagging. Mr McCain even made time for a detour from his campaign to make a hilarious cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live alongside the actress Tina Fey in the role of Sarah Palin.

Mr McCain was back on the trail in Pennsylvania yesterday, hoping to repeat Hillary Clinton's wounding victory over Mr Obama in the primaries. Then he was headed to New Hampshire; a state that has been kind to him in the past and has twice brought him back from the political dead.

Mr McCain is facing stiffer headwinds in both these states this time with both tilting firmly to his opponent. Mr McCain was due to make a midnight dash for a rally in Miami last night. His final 24 hours before the polling booths open is set to be a blur of must-win states including appearances in Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada. The Republican is spending election day in his home state of Arizona, which could also be vulnerable according to the polls.

Mr Obama's confidence in his strategy is seen by the fact that four years ago at this stage, John Kerry was still hunting for votes in Pennsylvania and only dipping his toe into the red states of Ohio and Florida. In 2000, Al Gore was floundering in Missouri, Ohio and Florida on the eve of the election.

Senator Obama's final appearance in Virginia, where only 11 electoral votes are on offer, is an opportunity to drive a nail into his opponent's political coffin by snatching away a state that has been reliably Republican for decades.

But his decision to hold a final late night rally at Manassas, or Bull Run, scene of a famously bloody Confederate victory that led to the conflict being called the war of Brother Against Brother, is an opportunity to promise bipartisan leadership from the White House.

After a bruising presidential contest, marked by a viciously negative campaign of character assassination against him, Mr Obama wants to conclude with a gesture of national healing and a final appeal to undecided Republicans.

Mr McCain advisers maintain that his salvation will be so-called "Wal-Mart women" making less than $60,000 (£37,000) a year. Those female voters are said to have found a hero in Sarah Palin and working-class men have been inspired by Joe the Plumber – the McCain theory goes.

There is little or no polling evidence to back up the theory but two consecutive defeats in presidential elections mean the Democrats are anything but complacent about the final outcome.

Stan Greenberg, who was Bill Clinton's pollster, is predicting a watershed election in which Senator Obama could take the White House with a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the Senate and that the Democratic margin in the House could double.

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