The two presidential candidates stomped into the other party’s territory Sunday, with Sen. Barack Obama making a run for “red” Ohio, while Sen. John McCain battled to put “blue” Pennsylvania in his column with the aid of automated calls using Mr. Obama’s own words to accuse him of planning to bankrupt the coal industry.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, targeted voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other coal-producing states with “robocalls” saying that “coal jobs, which are so important to our community, are in jeopardy. … Listen to Barack Obama’s plans to bankrupt the coal industry.”
The call then plays an excerpt from a January interview that Mr. Obama gave the San Francisco Chronicle in which he defends his proposal for a cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of carbon dioxide by requiring power plants and others to buy the right to emit the harmful gas.
Listen to Obama’s plans for the coal states.
“So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” he said.
The Obama campaign denounced the RNC calls as taking his quote “wildly” out of context, saying that elsewhere in the interview, Mr. Obama calls the idea of banning coal burning “an illusion.”
“The point Obama is making is that we need to transition from coal-burning power plants built with old technology to plants built with advanced technologies - and that is exactly the action that will be incentivized under a cap-and-trade program,” an Obama spokesman told ABC News.
In a town-hall meeting Sunday night in New Hampshire, where environmentalism is a strong force, Mr. McCain was asked whether he would oppose coal-burning plants that don’t have carbon-sequestration technology.
“I want to tell you that I would, but I can’t,” he said, noting that the technology is still in its infancy and raises the cost of power. He also noted that current coal-burning plants, which are mostly old but provide half of the nation’s electricity, would need to be handled differently under any climate-control rules.
The candidates and their surrogates continued their dash to the finish line Sunday, crisscrossing Ohio and Pennsylvania, both pivotal states where coal is a major industry.
In Wallingford, Pa., Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and a longtime McCain friend, told a packed rally that the state will be pivotal. If Mr. McCain neither flips Pennsylvania nor successfully defends Ohio, he has virtually no chance of piecing together the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency on Tuesday.
“Twenty-one electoral votes - that can make up for a lot of votes,” Mr. Lieberman said. “You can really turn this around.”
Mr. Obama’s path to the presidency, on the other hand, is far more open. Polls show the six closest states are Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio, all states won by President Bush in 2004. His aggressive ground game has virtually guaranteed a win in Iowa, where he leads by a large margin in the latest polls, as well as given him a good chance at winning New Mexico, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia.
But the Democrat warned against overconfidence at a rally in Columbus, Ohio.
“Don’t believe for a second that this election is over,” Mr. Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, told a crowd estimated at more than 60,000.
“We can’t afford to slow down, sit back or let up for one day, one minute or one second in these last few days. … Go vote right now. Do not delay. We’ve got work to do,” he said.
Mr. McCain didn’t think the campaign was over, either.
“We’re going to win Pennsylvania and we’re going to win this election. I sense it and I feel it and I know it,” the buoyant candidate said in Wallingford, declaring that “Mac is back” at the kickoff of an 18-hour day that won’t end until after midnight in Miami.
One McCain adviser said the campaign’s last internal polls put the Pennsylvania contest within the margin of error. All four independent polls at Real Clear Politics that sampled through the weekend showed Mr. McCain trailing by six or seven percentage points, although that is less than the 11-point average lead Mr. Obama held as recently as Wednesday.
Even apart from the attack over coal, the campaign took a decidedly negative turn Sunday, with the Pennsylvania Republican Party putting up an ad featuring the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whom the McCain campaign has steadfastly refused to target.
“If you think you could ever vote for Barack Obama, consider this: Obama chose as his spiritual leader, this man: Jeremiah Wright,” the narrator says. The ad then cuts to Mr. Obama’s longtime pastor delivering his famous line: “Not God bless America, God damn America.”
“Barack Obama: He chose as his pastor a man who blamed the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks. Does that sound like someone who should be president?” the ad says.
The ad was quickly removed from state party’s site, and the Obama campaign declined to comment.
The Democrat also put up a new negative ad, featuring Vice President Dick Cheney at an event Saturday in Wyoming, saying: “I’m delighted to support John McCain.”
Still, Mr. Obama on Sunday used Mr. McCain’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” to make a point about uniting the nation, saying his rival “was funny.”
“That’s part of what our politics should be about - being able to laugh at each other but also laugh at ourselves,” the senator from Illinois said. “Being able to understand that all of us: black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Democrat, Republican, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, disabled, non-disabled, all of us are in this together. All of us have work to do, all of us have a valuable part to play.”
Mr. Obama then transitioned into blasting Republicans for playing “the same political games and tactics that always pit us against one another.”
The Republican National Committee began another automated call into voter homes featuring Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s harshest criticism of Mr. Obama - whom she now supports - during the long and bitter Democratic primary season.
“In the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training. Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002. I think that is a significant difference,” she said in March, three months before she ended her bid to endorse her opponent.
The call will play in battleground states where the senator from New York is stumping on Mr. Obama’s behalf.
Before the nominee took the stage in Columbus, an Obama organizer blasted Republican robocalls and said the Democrat’s campaign does not do that. That is untrue, though; the campaign has run many automated calls slamming Mr. McCain as a George Bush clone.
Mr. McCain also took a nostalgic trip to New Hampshire, which twice backed him and saved his primary campaigns. The state was won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004, and the Republican now trails. He held a town hall in Peterborough, the site of one of his first campaign stops in 2000, when he gave away free ice cream but still drew fewer than 30 people.
“I come to the people of New Hampshire to ask them to let me go on one more mission,” said Mr. McCain.
Mr. McCain and the RNC have ramped up their spending in the campaign’s final days and now are matching Mr. Obama ad for ad in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
After months of planning, the Republican Party launched the last stage of its vaunted “72-hour program,” when volunteers descend on competitive states for the final stretch. Democrats unleashed their “persuasion army” of backers scouring their own back yards to encourage people to back Mr. Obama in the campaign’s waning hours.
Mr. Obama - ahead in all battleground and national polls - continued to avoid the press Sunday, brushing aside what he acknowledged was a “pretty good question” about the bailout bill by saying: “We’re on a tarmac.”
The reporter shouted back: “Have a press conference then?”
“I will, on Wednesday,” Mr. Obama said.
The exchange was picked up quickly by the Republican National Committee, which issued it to reporters as part of its regular “Audacity Watch.”
But later on the plane, spokeswoman Linda Douglass pulled back from the Wednesday promise. He would speak to the press before the end of the week, but “don’t count on Wednesday,” she said.
Mr. Obama joined up with his wife, Michelle, on Saturday. Introducing him to the crowd Sunday in Columbus, she offered an upbeat assessment that her husband will win.
“Beyond Tuesday, we are going to need you every step of the way,” she told more than 60,000 who had filled the streets around the state Capitol.
After the Columbus rally, the campaign headed to Cleveland for a rally with rocker Bruce Springsteen and 80,000 fans, and then to Cincinnati for the final stop.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCain was traveling with wife Cindy, daughter Meghan and several senators, including Mr. Lieberman and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, along with former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who urged supporters in Scranton, Pa., to hang tough until Election Day.
“We got some work left to do. We got two days and a wake up,” the former Marine said, using military jargon.