BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer CHICAGO
Looking ahead to closing his case against John McCain in Ohio, Barack Obama argues that voters there have a chance to reject "politics that would divide a nation just to win an election." Fresh off rollicking rallies in Colorado, Obama faced a more sober reality today in Ohio. Polls show a tight race in the state that sealed President Bush's 2004 re-election. Obama is giving what his campaign calls the "closi n g a rg u - ment" of his presidential bid in Ohio, w h e r e h e already lost o n c e t h i s year, to fellow Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. "In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope," Obama said in prepared comments released in advance early today by his campaign. The longest presidential contest in history is down to just eight days, with Obama and Republican McCain dueling for the electoral riches of Ohio and Pennsylvania. For his part, McCain's core theme was that electing Obama would give Democrats, who are on track to increase their congressional majoriTies, complete control of the government. Such a situation would inevitably lead to more government and higher taxes that would deepen the nation's economic woes, McCain and other Republican candidates were arguing in a message aimed squarely at independent and undecided voters that could decide the election's outcome. "My opponent is out there working out the details with Speaker Pelosi and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid, their plans to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," said McCain. "We're not going to let that happen." Democrats, meanwhile, argued that a one-party government could set the economy on the right track faster than one split between warring Republicans and Democrats. "If the American people want to get something done, that's not a bad idea." Said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said on CBS's "Early Show.” "Divided government gives everybody the ability to not do something and then point the finger at the other guy." Obama's struggles to connect with white workingclass voters in Ohio helped fuel his defeat in that state during the primaries. Economic concerns are even worse now with the country in a financial crisis, and perhaps headed for deep recession, with growing numbers of people out of work. And as Ohio goes, often goes history. No Democratic contender for the presidency has won without Ohio's support in nearly 50 years since John F. Kennedy in 1960. So it is a strategic choice that Obama will deliver his next speech in the industrial northeast Ohio city of Canton. His campaign touts it as his closing case, although there will presumably be other final arguments during the final, frenetic days of the campaign. Obama is sticking to his theme of linking McCain to President Bush, the unpopular leader of his party. McCain's campaign says that's false. Unlike in other key states, Obama has struggled to sustain a big lead in Ohio despite pounding McCain with TV ads and building a strong get-out-the-vote operation. Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes, never really recovered from the post-Sept. 11 recession. Long a manufacturing bastion, Ohio has lost almost 250,000 factory jobs since 2000. The unemployment rate is at 7. 2 percent, well above the national average of 6.1 percent. Pennsylvania is the only state that Democrat John Kerry won four years ago that both candidates are expected to visit before Election Day. With 21 electoral votes, it hasn't voted for a Republican president since 1988, but McCain is working the state aggressively. Public polls show Obama comfortably leading in Pennsylvania, though private Republican surveys show a closer race.