CLEVELAND – Republican John McCain increasingly is focusing his campaign's message on an institution that may be even less popular than President Bush and one he's been a part of most of his adult life: Congress.
Sweeping through key battleground states, the senator from Arizona directed about as much criticism at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he aimed at Democratic rival Barack Obama.
"My opponent is out there working out the details with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, their plan's to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," said McCain. "We're not going to let that happen."
With the campaign entering its closing stretch, McCain was focusing on his core theme that electing Obama would give Democrats complete control of the government, a move he argued would inevitably lead to more government and higher taxes. It's a message aimed squarely at independent voters in a shrinking number of battleground states that will determine the election's outcome.
Democrats hold a majority in both the House and Senate, and polls suggest they are likely to increase their edge in the election. Few have suggested Republicans can take either chamber back, and McCain argues that leaves only the White House to serve as a check on Democrats. Some have suggested the Democratic gains could be sizable, and McCain says that bolsters his argument that a check is needed.
McCain was stumping in Ohio, where its 20 electoral votes are up for grabs, before heading to Pennsylvania and then Florida to campaign in a state he badly needs to win. Lagging in the polls both nationally and in key states, McCain's attacks have sharpened in recent days. He argues that Obama is increasingly taking the election for granted and is content to coast until Nov. 4.
"He's measuring the drapes, he's planned his first address to the nation before the election," said McCain. "I guess I'm a little old fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in."
McCain routinely pays homage to Obama's often flowery speaking skills, and seeks to contrast himself as a plain-spoken person who will contest the election to the closing day.
"What America needs now is someone who will finish the race before starting a victory lap," said McCain.
He's returning constantly to his core themes.
"You can imagine Obama, Reid and Pelosi," said McCain. "Tax and spend, tax and spend."