Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. greets the crowd during a rally Monday, Oct. 20, 2008, in Belton, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Republican John McCain took his "Straight Talk Express" on a bus tour across Florida on Thursday, trying to keep Florida from swinging to the Democrats with a series of "Joe the Plumber" events aimed at blue-collar workers.
From Ormond Beach on the Atlantic Coast to Sarasota on the Gulf Coast, the Republican nominee was traversing the state with stops focused on criticizing Democrat Barack Obama's tax plans and promoting his own proposals to cut taxes for individuals and businesses. He was visiting a building materials company, a doctor's office, a restaurant and a farm.
His first stop, for coffee with Gov. Charlie Crist and three area business owners, was fruitful. Mike Murray, owner of the Starlite Diner, said he was concerned about both candidates raising taxes but planned to support McCain on Election Day.
"He's got the experience," Murray said as the candidate sat at a nearby booth. "I'm comfortable with him. I grew up knowing his name."
The route not only covered the vote-rich "I-4 Corridor" through Orlando, in central Florida, it included informal stops between the more formal rallies. The goal was to boost McCain in a state George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004 but which Obama is threatening to seize despite a strong GOP machine and the Arizona senator's endorsement by Crist.
Florida offers 27 electoral votes, fourth-most in the country. A total of 270 is needed to win the presidency.
Recent polls show Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, with a slight lead over McCain. The Democrat has been bombarding Florida with TV ads and campaigning by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a rival for the nomination who won the state's primary.
Nationally, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows McCain and Obama essentially even among likely voters, possible evidence of a tightened race 12 days before the Nov. 4 election. The poll found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, statistically insignificant and a change from a similar survey three weeks earlier that found Obama with a 7-point lead.
McCain previewed his approach Wednesday in Ohio, home state of the original "Joe the Plumber."
Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, became a thematic figure in McCain's campaign after he was videotaped questioning whether Obama's plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 would keep him from buying the two-man plumbing shop where he works.
Wurzelbacher subsequently revealed he did not make that much, and several analyses suggested he would pay fewer taxes under Obama's tax proposal than McCain's. Neither point has deterred McCain or running mate Sarah Palin from using Wurzelbacher as the focal point of their stump speeches, as they did before thousands when they appeared together in Green, Ohio.
"Sarah Palin and I will not raise your taxes, my friends. We want you to get wealthy," McCain said.
Palin, the Alaska governor, delighted the crowd as she derided Obama as "Barack the Wealth Spreader."
She said, "You have to really listen to our opponent's words, because he's hiding his real agenda of redistributing your hard-earned money."
Obama, speaking Wednesday in Virginia, rebutted the criticism.
"Let's be clear who John McCain is fighting for. He is not fighting for Joe the Plumber. He's fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager," the Democrat said. "If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year - which includes 98 percent of small-business owners - you won't see your taxes increase one single dime."
From Florida, McCain was flying to Denver for appearances Friday in Colorado.
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