With just over a week left until Election Day, the presidential candidates are making the rounds in a number of states marked as battlegrounds — with the 2004 election deal-breaker state of Ohio factoring into campaign strategies as one of the most frequent stops in the final days of campaigning.
Democrat Sen. Barack Obama delivered Monday what his campaign called his closing argument speech in Canton, an industrial city in northeastern Ohio. His focus remained on the economy, job creation and the middle class. He continued to hammer Republican rival Sen. John McCain, saying he failed to propose an economic plan that differs from that of President Bush.
“After 21 months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he’d do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy,” Obama said. “Senator McCain says that we can’t spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years.”
At a stop Monday morning in Cleveland, however, McCain continued to tout his message of lowering taxes while highlighting his differences with President Bush.
“This is the fundamental difference between Senator Obama and me. The fundamental difference,” McCain said after meeting with his economic advisers. “We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high. My approach is to get spending under control and cut taxes, and encourage people to invest in our markets, or buy a home, and to encourage businesses to hire more workers.”
McCain also warned Ohio voters of handing over control of the White House and both chambers of Congress to the Democrats, a message the campaign has raised in the final weeks of the race. In Cleveland, he called Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Leader Harry Reid and Obama a “dangerous threesome.”
Hit hard by economic troubles, Ohio has one of the country’s highest employment rates at 7.2 percent and faces staggering foreclosure rates in many of its metro areas including Cleveland, Akron, Toledo and Dayton, according to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures.
Ohio is also home to Joe Wurzelbacher, a Toledo resident who has gained national fame after McCain told the story of “Joe the Plumber” at the final presidential debate as a means to criticize Obama’s tax plan. “Joe the Plumber” has become a staple in both candidates’ discussion of taxes and small businesses.
At an Obama campaign stop, Wurzelbacher asked the senator about his tax plan for small businesses. McCain has attacked Obama for his statement that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everyone.”
McCain continued that line of attack at a rally held Sunday in Lancaster as he campaigned in the rural southeastern part of the state.
“We’re not going to spread the wealth around, we’re gonna let Americans keep their wealth and create jobs and take care of their families and pass on to their children what they’ve gained,” McCain said.
With 20 Electoral College votes, the Buckeye State could play a pivotal role in the winning equation on Election Day. President Bush carried the state in 2004 by fewer than 120,000 votes. The tally is remembered for long lines and polling places irregularities. The state will be on the watch list for polling problems on Nov. 4.
No Republican candidate has won the White House without winning Ohio. Only two Democrats — Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy — lost Ohio but still won the presidency.
Polls show McCain has his work cut out for him. A recent poll average by Real Clear Politics put Obama ahead by 6 percentage points.
McCain will return to Ohio on Friday to campaign with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same Columbus venue where the governor appeared with President Bush near the end of the 2004 campaign, according to Ohio Public Radio.
Obama has spent more money than McCain on his ground organization in Ohio, and has twice as many campaign offices, according to NPR. Combined, both candidates have aired more than 68,000 campaign ads in the state this year, with Obama outspending McCain almost 2-to-1 in the past week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.