CEDAR FALLS - Despite Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's comfortable lead in Iowa polls, Republican rival John McCain isn't giving up on the state.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain and prominent surrogate, made that clear at a Sunday afternoon rally in Cedar Falls.
"Iowa is ground zero of this election," the Republican senator said. "We need you."
McCain spokeswoman Wendy Riemann echoed Graham, pointing to internal campaign polling showing a "very close race."
"We're obviously competitive here," Riemann said after the event, noting the party's campaign strategy to attract undecided voters and those who previously favored other candidates, namely Hillary Rodham Clinton. "These seven [electoral] votes count."
Despite similar polls nationwide, McCain said he wouldn't capitulate and criticized Obama for preemptively "measuring the drapes."
"I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned about these things," McCain said. "I prefer to let the voters weigh in before presuming."
He spoke to an enthusiastic "drill baby, drill" crowd of approximately 2,000 at the University of Northern Iowa, rhetorically ripping Obama on taxes, national defense, and energy policy.
"We talk about nuclear power - 'it has to be safe environmentally, blah, blah, blah,' " McCain said mocking Obama, the crowd erupting approvingly. "I have news for Sen. Obama - nuclear power is safe. We ought to do it now."
McCain portrayed Obama as tax-and-spend, redistributionist liberal, while painting himself as a valiant fighter for the American people.
"I have been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and I have the scars to prove it," the senior senator said on Sunday, 41 years after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam. "I'm not afraid of the fight, I'm ready for it."
And he engaged in a little economic populism as well, arguing the need to "take care of the working people" - not just Wall Street.
Garry Cole, a New Hampton, Iowa, resident and McCain supporter, said an Obama presidency would be a "nightmare" and argued the Illinois senator would raise taxes and create an economy in which workers are penalized for success.
Another attendee, Marv Dillavau, expressed that same anti-tax sentiment. The Cedar Falls resident contended Obama's tax plan would give impetus to a stray from an economy based on "personal initiative and personal responsibility."
McCain would cut more taxes than Obama, with the majority of them going to the upper-income brackets, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Despite polls showing McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, declining in popularity among voters, Dillavau was stalwart in his support for Palin.
"I would be very comfortable if, heaven forbid, she had to step in as president," Dillavau said, commending her recent "toughness" standing up against the "mainstream media."
Both Graham and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who spoke directly before McCain, delivered their own attacks.
The South Carolina senator's speech was particularly scathing, decrying Obama's voting record on Iraq, his flip-flop on public financing, and his inexperience.
And - echoing a common GOP argument in this year's pro-Democrat election cycle - he stressed the need for a divided government, arguing McCain would provide the requisite "adult supervision" for Democratic leaders.
The Cedar Falls stop was the third and final stop of the campaign's weekend tour, with Palin stumping on Oct. 25 in Sioux City and Des Moines.