Obama strikes deep into McCain’s turf as election nears

Obama strikes deep into McCain’s turf as election nears

Fayetteville, North Carolina: Democrat Barack Obama on Sunday pursued his audacious hunt for votes in America’s conservative heartland after rallying monster crowds in the Republican “red" state of Missouri with a rousing call for change.

Just over a fortnight before the 4 November election, the White House hopeful was to campaign in North Carolina — which last voted for a Democratic presidential contender in 1976 but is now a toss-up state.

And Obama’s camp was hoping for a landmark endorsement as NBC prepared to air an interview on its Sunday politics show “Meet the Press" with former secretary of state Colin Powell, a Republican military grandee.

For the liberal left, Powell was tarnished by his role in promoting the US invasion of Iraq. But it would be a stern slap to Republican John McCain’s candidacy if the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff backed Obama.

McCain, fighting a rearguard offensive as his poll numbers sag, insisted that Obama’s economic plan would “kill" job creation as the United States weathers its worst financial crisis in decades.

“At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," he said Saturday, as his campaign bombarded voters’ telephones with “robo-calls" portraying Obama as a closet radical.

But the Democrat, who is riding high in national and state polls, was buoyed by the astonishing numbers he attracted on Saturday in Missouri, which voted for Republican president George W. Bush in the last two elections.

The day’s first crowd in St Louis numbered at least 100,000 — Obama’s biggest yet in the United States. An evening rally in Kansas City, Missouri’s other big metropolis, attracted more than 75,000 supporters.

The 47-year-old candidate bidding to be the nation’s first black president said the enormous turnouts were proof “the winds are blowing for change across America," as he bids to flip red states into Democratic “blue."

“They’re blowing in Kansas, they’re blowing in Missouri, they’re blowing in North Carolina, they’re blowing in Virginia, they’re blowing in Ohio," Obama said, reeling off a list of states that all backed Bush in 2004 and 2000.

The Illinois senator was ahead of McCain by 50% to 42% in Saturday’s Gallup national tracking poll. In the Rasmussen tracking poll, the Democrat was up 50% to 45.

But Obama reiterated his message of recent days that supporters should not get “cocky" as he headed to North Carolina and then Florida on Monday for a joint rally with his vanquished primary rival, Hillary Clinton.

“Democrats have a way of snatching defeat from the jaws from victory," he said. “We’ve got to keep running through that finish line."

At his own rallies in North Carolina and Virginia, another red state now very much in play, McCain Saturday once again invoked Ohio plumber Samuel “Joe" Wurzelbacher, a new hero to conservatives after challenging Obama on taxes.

“Joe’s dream is to own a small business that will create jobs in his community, and the attacks on him are an attack on small businesses all over the country," McCain said as a harsh media spotlight turns on Wurzelbacher.

Joe the Plumber and low taxes have become McCain’s latest campaign motifs as the Arizona senator, 72, vies to resuscitate his flagging White House hopes on the final stretch to the election.

McCain intensified an offensive in swing states over Obama’s ties to former 1960s radical William Ayers. He unleashed automated phone calls that also accused Obama of supporting the killing of babies born alive in abortions.

McCain himself was undermined by robo-call smears when he was up against Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000, and even party colleagues such as Maine Senator Susan Collins say the tactic smacks of desperation this time.

But the McCain campaign insisted the attack calls were rooted in fact and said the Democratic contender was hoodwinking voters over his past.

For his part, Obama said Americans “can’t afford four more years like the last eight."