Defiant McCain Kicks Off Ohio Bus Tour
By Michael D. Shear
DEFIANCE, Ohio -- Sen. John McCain launched a two-day bus tour of the Buckeye State in a place that describes his mood.
The Republican is defiant, his top aides say, unwilling to give up the dream he has pursued for more than a decade, despite public polls which suggest that it is slipping away quickly.
The temperature was 24 degrees when the campaign bus pulled out out this morning for three outdoor rallies, the beginning of a final five days that advisers say will take McCain back to Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Missouri, before winding up with a six-state spree on Monday.
"I know history. I know the last time anyone was elected president of the United States without carrying the state of Ohio was John F. Kennedy," McCain told several thousand people who packed the town's square. "My friends, we are going to carry Ohio and we are going to with the presidency and we need you out there working every single moment for the next five days."
McCain ordered his brain trust onto the trail this week for a final set of briefings on how they can win. Advisers Mark Salter, Steve Schmidt, Charlie Black, Matt McDonald and Nicolle Wallace are here. Political director Mike DuHaime left Wednesday to go back to Washington.
On the plane from Florida to Ohio Wednesday night, Sen. Lindsey Graham offered a peek from the inside.
The campaign's tracking polls show steady improvement, he told a small group of reporters gathered around the front of the press cabin. In many of the battleground states, their polls show McCain trailing but well within the margin of error.
If McCain enters the weekend in that position in Florida and Ohio, Graham said the campaign believes they will win in those states. The same goes for Virginia and North Carolina -- places that he said the campaign believes are closer than public polls suggest.
Graham -- who is McCain's best friend and has been by his side for much of the past two years -- said that the most critical number will be their internal tracking polls on Friday. If those show the Obama getting more than 50 percent in those states, "then we lose," he said bluntly.
But, like other top aides, he expressed optimism about the two messages McCain has been pushing: Obama's desire to "spread the wealth" and Sen. Joe Biden's comment that Obama will be tested as president. They feed the narrative that Obama is not ready to be president, he said.
DuHaime, who is charged with implementing the campaign's strategy, briefed reporters on the details.
McCain's hope lies in winning a group of historically Republican-leaning states: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri. If he can do that, DuHaime said, then he can win the election with one of two endgames: a victory in Pennsylvania or a combination of wins in New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.
The key demographic, aides said, is older white voters, who seem to be coming home for McCain. In a strategy memo this week, the campaign asserted that "our long identified target of 'Walmart women' -- those women without a college degree in households under $60,000 a year in income, are also swinging back solidly in our direction."
DuHaime expressed hope that the senator's fate is up to the voters who continue to tell pollsters they are unsure of how they will vote.
"This race is very close down to the wire. Undecided voters are deluged with historic amounts of advertising. The most negative ads in history. The most positive ads in history. The most money ever spent on a campaign," he said. "And yet we are still sitting here very close together."
Pressed by reporters about public polls which show large leads for Obama in some of those critical states, DuHaime said that McCain's two pollsters -- Bill McInturff and Ed Goeas -- both believe that the public polling is not accurate.
"Iowa is closer than most people think," he said.
In the strategy memo, McInturff had noted, "As other public polls begin to show Senator Obama dropping below 50 percent and the margin over McCain beginning to approach margin of error with a week left, all signs say we are headed to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday."
In Defiance, several thousand people put on their coats and hats to hear McCain make his final argument.
Graham introduced him by mocking Obama's infomercial, saying, "Thank God for cable," and comparing watching it to torture by joking that "If we'd played that at a prison camp, it would have violated the Geneva Convention."
He predicted that McCain will win northwest Ohio because "this is a Joe the Plumber kind of town. The only thing we're going to spread around in Defiance, Ohio, is a chance to do better."
When McCain took the stage, he lived up to his advertised defiant mood. As the end of the race nears, his delivery is getting more urgent, and he pounds his lines out with an energy reminiscent of the final days before the New Hampshire primary, when the Republican nomination was on the line.
"Yes, we will lead. Yes, we will prosper. Yes, we will be safer. Yes, we will pass on to our children a stronger, better country," he thunders. "But we must be prepared to act swiftly, boldly, with courage and leadership. I am an American and I choose to fight. Don't give up
hope. Be strong. Have courage and fight."
McCain aides said that Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher would be joining McCain on the trail in his home state later today. But McCain apparently got mixed up about when Joe was meeting up with the campaign.
"Joe's with us today. Joe where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today? Joe I thought you were here today," McCain said, getting no answer from Joe in the crowd.
Recovering quickly, he said: "Alright, you're all Joe the plumber, so stand up.... Thank you.
Wherever you are Joe, let's give him a round of applause for what he's done for America."
Posted at 12:08 PM ET on Oct 30, 2008
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