DENVER | Neither presidential campaign can claim to be in the nation's cultural and economic mainstream - but they sure do try.
In the fight for swing voters, both camps have gone into overdrive at trying to show who is more in tune with average Americans.
Democrat Barack Obama and his campaign surrogates have been bashing John McCain for not knowing how many homes he and his wealthy wife, Cindy, have, while Michelle Obama portrayed herself and her husband Monday night as people of humble beginnings, with little money starting out.
Calling her husband's life "a great American story," she said both of them were raised with "many of the same values" of hard work, honesty and self-reliance.
The McCain campaign constantly reminds voters that the Obamas are wealthy, Harvard-educated lawyers who met at a law firm when they started out of college. She became a well-paid hospital administrator. He went into politics and made millions of dollars on two best-selling books about his life that gave them the means to buy a mansion in Chicago and enjoy an elite lifestyle.
McCain campaign ads frequently remind voters of Mr. Obama's remarks this year at a posh San Francisco fundraiser that it was not a surprise that rural, small-town people "cling to guns, religion or antipathy" because they are "bitter" over their economic circumstances. His remarks were "elitist" and showed he was out of touch with ordinary Americans, McCain surrogates said.
The Obama camp struck back Monday with two attack ads, one of which cited Mr. McCain's December remark that economics was "not something I've understood as well as I should."
Democrats denied the Obama camp was playing class warfare, but acknowledged the crossfire has intensified and will likely get hotter in the weeks to come.
"I wouldn't say it's hand-to-hand combat or class warfare, but they sure have ratcheted it up a bit," said Democratic media strategist Bud Jackson.
The McCain campaign has been hitting Mr. Obama with new TV or Internet attack ads almost every week this month, defining him as out of touch with Americans on skyrocketing oil and gas prices as well as taxes, and the freshman senator's polls have been falling as a result.
"Democrats have to improve on punching back hard," Mr. Jackson told The Washington Times on Tuesday. Other Democrats here expressed similar frustrations this week.
With both candidates accusing the other of being elitist and out of touch with the everyday lives of working people, a new battleground poll showed Mr. McCain edging ahead of or gaining on Mr. Obama in three key states.
In Florida, for example, the Arizona Republican was leading his rival by 47 percent to 43 percent, according to the Quinnipiac University survey conducted from Aug. 17 to 24. Mr. Obama had a slight lead in June.
Mr. McCain was leading among independents by eight percentage points, white voters by 20 points and Catholics by 22 points. Mr. Obama wins almost all black voters and leads among voters younger than 35 by 19 points, but loses older voters to Mr. McCain.
In Ohio, the race remains a dead heat with Mr. McCain edging ahead 44 percent to 43 percent, revealing a slight decline for Mr. Obama. Whites back Mr. McCain by 11 percentage points, but his opponent has a 14-point lead among women.
In Pennsylvania, a state that has voted reliably Democratic in recent presidential elections, Mr. Obama's lead has shrunk slightly since June. Mr. McCain now trails him by seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent. Mr. Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and about a third to half of her supporters have told pollsters they either will vote for Mr. McCain or will not vote at all.
Democratic pollsters say their surveys are showing similar weaknesses in Mr. Obama's numbers, blaming the shift on Mr. McCain's fierce offensive campaign and the Obama campaign's tepid ad responses.
"The central challenge for Obama is to start defining the choice in this race on his terms, and putting McCain on defense," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said last week in her analysis for the bipartisan Battleground Poll.