WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican John McCain declared "I'm going to win it," dismissing polls showing him behind with little more than a week to go in the presidential race. Democrat Barack Obama rolled out a new TV ad asserting his rival is "out of ideas, out of touch, and running out of time."
Heading into the final nine days of the 2008 contest, the White House competitors campaigned in key battlegrounds that President Bush won four years ago as the state-by-state Electoral College map tilts strongly in Obama's favor. Democrats and Republicans alike say it will be extraordinarily difficult for McCain to change the trajectory of the campaign before the Nov. 4 election.
"Unfortunately, I think John McCain might be added to that long list of Arizonans who ran for president but were never elected," McCain's fellow senator from Arizona, Republican Jon Kyl, told the Arizona Daily Star editorial board in an interview published Sunday.
Sparring from a distance, each candidate criticized the other anew in hopes of swaying the roughly one-fourth of voters who are undecided or could still change their minds.
Obama "started out in the left-hand lane of American politics and has remained there," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press" while in Iowa, casting the Democrat as too liberal for a right-of-center country.
In Colorado, Obama portrayed McCain as more of the same, saying: "For eight years, we've seen the Bush-McCain philosophy put our country on the wrong track, and we cannot have another four years that look just like the last eight."
Obama is working to solidify his lead in national and key state surveys, while McCain is looking for a comeback in a political environment that has become increasingly favorable for Democrats and challenging for Republicans as the global economic crisis dominates the campaign.
In coming days, both candidates will focus primarily on Bush-won, vote-rich battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida, which decided the last two presidential elections and could do so again.
Pennsylvania is the only state that Democrat John Kerry won four years ago that both candidates are expected to visit before Election Day. With 21 electoral votes, it hasn't voted for a Republican president since 1988 but McCain is aggressively courting white, working-class voters who overwhelmingly chose Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary over Obama, who would become the country's first black president.
Obama's campaign was exuding confidence though leaving nothing to chance.
The Democrat hit McCain with the fresh ad, to air on national cable stations, that says he has "no plan to lift our economy up" and, thus, is tearing down Obama with "scare tactics and smears." "As Americans lose their jobs, homes, and savings, it's time for a president who will change the economy, not change the subject," says the ad, which shows McCain and Bush together
The Illinois senator was spending the next four days in Bush-won Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, with a quick stop in Pennsylvania.
Aides say Obama will lay out his closing argument in a speech Monday in Canton, Ohio. Behind the scenes, advisers were preparing the 30-minute advertisement he planned to air Wednesday on national TV networks as part of that last pitch, and also were mapping the transition to the White House.
McCain, for his part, was seeking to stay focused on his uphill battle amid new distractions.
In the past few days, there has been finger-pointing inside the GOP over who is to blame for McCain's struggles, reports of friction between his top advisers and aides for running mate Sarah Palin and the continued fallout of the Republican National Committee's $150,000 purchase of high-end clothing for the Alaska governor and her family.
Even so, McCain appeared undeterred in Iowa, where public surveys show Obama comfortably leading. He was campaigning later in the toss-up state of Ohio, followed by Pennsylvania on Monday, where Obama has the advantage.
In the TV interview, McCain said of the race: "We're going to win it, and it's going to be tight, and we're going to be up late" on election night.
He dismissed the Palin wardrobe flap and said much of the clothes were immediately returned. Aides said that was for a variety of reasons, including the wrong sizes, and that the rest will be donated to charity.
"I don't defend her. I praise her. She is exactly what Washington needs," McCain said.
McCain also worked anew to distance himself from the unpopular Bush, saying he's stood up against the GOP and Bush and has "got the scars to prove it."
"The fact is I am not George Bush. The fact is I was not popular in my own party," McCain said. Then, he added: "Do we share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? Of course."
Obama pounced on that comment, telling his Denver audience: "I guess that was John McCain finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common." Then, he belittled the "Bush-McCain philosophy" on economics as one that would benefit the wealthy and corporations while hurting the middle class.
He noted that Bush already has cast his vote for McCain and said: "We're not going to let George Bush pass the torch to John McCain."
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