- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama staked out turf in critical swing states this week as Republicans convened in Minnesota, repeatedly depicting his rival, Sen. John McCain, as a wealthy, aging war hero.

Following campaign stops in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, Mr. Obama caps the tour with a stump speech Thursday in Lancaster, Pa., just hours before Mr. McCain is scheduled to formally accept the Republican presidential nomination.

The Obama campaign billed the Lancaster event as a forum on the economy, which has been the theme of most battleground-state visits and has provided Mr. Obama a platform for relentless attacks that portray Mr. McCain as out of touch with middle-class Americans.

At an event Wednesday in Ohio that highlighted economic issues facing women, Mr. Obama accused Republican conventioneers of ignoring the country’s hard times.

“Not once did people mention the hardships that folks are going through. Not once did they mention what are we going to do about keeping jobs here in Ohio,” Mr. Obama said at Kent State University atTuscarawas in New Philadelphia, Ohio. He said Republicans also avoided talking about retirees losing pensions, Social Security going bankrupt, rising college tuition and the home-foreclosure crisis.

“Well, I guess I don’t blame them,” Mr. Obama said. “Because if you don’t have any issues to run on, I guess you want it to be all about personality. … I don’t think that John McCain is a bad man. I think he just does not get it.”

The message is part of a campaign strategy that shifts the focus of the election away from Republican criticism that Mr. Obama of Illinois lacks experience and puts the focus on pocketbook issues worrying many Americans, including middle-class voters Mr. Obama struggled to attract in these key states during the primary race.

The campaign itinerary this week maps out much of the battleground for the contest this fall.

Mr. McCain covered some of the same ground with stops in Ohio and Missouri over the weekend and a foray Monday into the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania is a must-win state for Mr. Obama, who lost the state primary by nearly 10 points to rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

He gained ground in the Keystone State since clinching the nomination and is working to solidify his lead over Mr. McCain. But polls show Mr. Obama’s seven-point lead, 49 percent to 42 percent, is stagnant since July. And despite the Pennsylvania voters not backing a Republican for president since 1988, Mr. McCain is aggressively pursuing middle-class voters there.

The race remains close throughout the swing states.

In Ohio, which has picked the winning presidential candidate in the last 11 elections, the race is getting even tighter.

A Quinnipiac University Swing State poll last week showed Mr. Obama with the thinnest of leads, 44 percent to 43 percent, slightly narrower from his 46 percent to 44 percent lead over Mr. McCain a month ago in the Buckeye State.

In Florida, where Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. campaigned Tuesday and Wednesday, polls show Mr. McCain overtaking Mr. Obama. After trailing by two points in July, Mr. McCain last month took the lead in Florida, 47 percent to 43 percent, according to the Quinnipiac survey.

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