JIM LEHRER: What the candidates were up to today. Ray Suarez has our report.
RAY SUAREZ: Democratic nominee Barack Obama returned to Virginia today, trying to build on recent polls that show him ahead in a state that hasn’t supported a Democrat for president in more than 40 years.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-Ill.): I’m pretty sure that America is ready for change; I’m sure Virginia is ready for change.
RAY SUAREZ: Speaking in Roanoke, Obama focused on health care. He said John McCain would pay for his health care plan by cutting funding for Medicare.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: … $882 billion in Medicare cuts to pay for an ill-conceived, badly-thought-through health care plan that won’t provide more health care to people, even though Medicare is already facing a looming shortfall.
If you count on Medicare, it would mean fewer places to get care and less freedom to choose your own doctors. You’ll pay more for your drugs; you’ll receive fewer services; you’ll get lower quality care. I don’t think that’s right.
Addressing Medicare, wealth issues
RAY SUAREZ: Obama said as president he would improve Medicare coverage.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We can strengthen Medicare by eliminating wasteful subsidies to big HMOs in Medicare, making sure seniors can access home-based care, letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies for cheaper prices on their drugs. That's the kind of change we need.
RAY SUAREZ: Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, also campaigned today in a state that voted for President Bush in 2004, New Mexico.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-Del.): I love John talking about, "Well, you know, Barack Obama wants to redistribute income." Let me talk about redistribution.
Ladies and gentlemen, the fact of the matter is, the biggest redistribution of wealth has taken place under George Bush. The Wall Street Journal, not Joe Biden, points out, not since 1921 has this existed.
Right now, the top one percent of the American people make over 22 percent of all the income in America, one percent. The bottom 50 percent, they make less than 13 percent.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's redistribution the wrong way. Let's set the record straight. Let's help the middle class.
Sparring over the economy
RAY SUAREZ: Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin brought their economic message to the traditional battleground states of Florida and Ohio, both won by President Bush in 2004.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): And there's no doubt whatsoever: We will win the state of Florida.
RAY SUAREZ: In Miami, McCain again hammered Obama's tax plan.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Sen. Obama claims that he wants to give a tax break to the middle class, but not only did he vote for higher taxes on the middle class in the Senate, his plan gives away your tax dollars to those that don't pay taxes. That's not a tax cut; that's welfare.
America didn't become the greatest nation on Earth by redistributing wealth. We became the greatest nation by creating new wealth.
Health care, budget promises
RAY SUAREZ: And McCain said it was Obama who would put health care out of reach for millions of Americans.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: If I'm elected president, I won't fine small businesses and families with children, as Sen. Obama proposes, to force them into a huge, new government-run health care program, while he keeps the cost of the fine a secret until he hits you with it.
I'll bring down the skyrocketing cost of health care with competition and choice to lower your premiums and make it more available to Americans.
RAY SUAREZ: In West Chester, Ohio, Sarah Palin told the crowd a McCain-Palin administration would cut the federal deficit.
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-Alaska): As president, John will impose a spending freeze to cover all but the most vital functions of government, those that would include worker training and taking care of our veterans. We must balance the budget. We'll balance the budget by the end of our first term.
He's got the guts to confront the $10 trillion debt that the federal government has run up, that debt that we're expected to pass on to our kids and our grandkids. No, that's not right; that's not fair; that will not happen on our watch.
After a break, campaigns continue
RAY SUAREZ: Today's events were a stark contrast to the more genteel setting last night at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner for Charity in New York. The candidates left the campaign trail to poke fun at each other and themselves.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: It's true that this morning I've dismissed my entire team of senior advisers. All of their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the plumber.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I have to say, tonight's venue isn't really what I'm used to. I was originally told we'd be able to move this outdoors to Yankee Stadium. And can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?
RAY SUAREZ: The candidates will keep up their torrid pace this weekend with appearances in several hotly contested states. North Carolina, where the race has tightened in recent weeks, will get visits from both nominees.
McCain will be in Concord on Saturday, and Obama is set to appear in Fayetteville on Sunday.