Candidates Stump In Swing States

Martinsville, VA—Barack Obama and John McCain spent today courting swing states and hitting each other's weak spots.

But the campaigning was overshadowed by two new polls showing their presidential race tightening and—of course—continued speculation about who they would tap as their vice-presidential nominees.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, courted the NASCAR vote in this southern Virginia town, where he hammered the economic plans off his Republican opponent McCain, and tried to link them to President Bush's.

McCain, in New Mexico, challenged Obama's judgment on foreign and military affairs and accused him of wanting "to forfeit" the war in Iraq.

The new polls suggest that a month of withering attacks by McCain and his allies have eroded some of Obama's support, while McCain has begun to solidify a once-wary Republican base behind his candidacy.

A survey by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg News showed Obama leading McCain by two points, ten points closer than in a similar survey in June, while one from Reuters and Zogby showed McCain with a five-point lead.

It's unclear if those numbers will lessen the chance that McCain, who is anti-abortion, will go with a potentially game-changing vice-presidential pick like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, both of whom support abortion rights.

McCain has been taking heat from the GOP base since he said last week that he would consider a running mate who supports abortion rights, a position that is anathema to social conservatives.

He fielded tough questions on the subject today from a conservative talker and his own supporters at a town hall meeting.

"I have not made the decision," he told talk radio host Laura Ingraham. "We're in the process and, if I say anything more than that, I guarantee you there's going to be another one of these firestorms."

Meanwhile, Politico revealed that Obama would meet Wednesday night with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is reportedly on the shortlist of vice presidential possibilities and will campaign with Obama Thursday.

The Obama campaign, though, denied a report from the Nashville Post that the candidate was planning a "major event" Saturday in Indiana, home to another rumored shortlister, Sen. Evan Bayh.

After shaking hands and munching on a zucchini muffin and a biscuit at a Greensboro, N.C. farmers' market, Obama brushed off questions about his vice presidential selection, telling a local reporter "no new hints."

Obama did say he thinks he can win North Carolina, which hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1976. His campaign is at least as keen on turning Virginia blue. To do so, he'll have to make some inroads in the economically distressed rural southern areas of the state, populated by the kinds of poor white voters who overwhelmingly preferred Hillary Clinton in the primary.

 

His campaign believes it can appeal to those voters by continuing to link McCain to Bush's economic policies—a theme Obama hit hard in Martinsville.

"Look, I mean, John McCain, let's face it: He's got a compelling biography. He's a POW, and so that's what people kind of think about him, instead of focusing on the fact that he wants to continue the same economic polices that George Bush has been doing for the last eight years," Obama said. "And so my job in this election is to say I honor his service, but I don't honor his policies and I don't honor his politics."

Obama was accompanied in Martinsville by former governor and current Senate candidate Mark Warner to events in a garage at a community college's motorsports training program and at a plant that builds race car engines.

At the community college, Obama pointed out that his maternal ancestors were "Scots-Irish. You know, there are a whole bunch of those folks here in Virginia. Alright. So, y'all didn't know, bt we may be cousins."

But Warner, who will deliver the keynote address at next week's Democratic convention, may have undercut the good-ole'-Obama vibe when he introduced Obama at the community college by noting that they both went to Harvard Law School. Warner—who occasionally seemed to employ a Southern accent he usually doesn’t have—jokingly referred to Harvard Law as "a little starter school up in Boston," but the remark received no audible laughter.

At New Mexico State University, McCain continued his attacks on Obama's energy plan and foreign policy credentials, while stressing that he wasn't challenging his rival’s patriotism, as Obama alleged yesterday.

"Let me be very clear: I am not questioning his patriotism. I am questioning his judgment," McCain told supporters.

"Even today, with victory in sight, over and over he's advocated withdrawal," McCain added. "He's made these decisions not because he doesn't love America but because he doesn't think it matters whether American wins or loses."

New Mexico is considered a battleground by both campaigns, and McCain predicted that on election night it "will be one of those states where we say, 'wow, we're still up late waiting for New Mexico to come in.'"

From New Mexico, McCain flew to Phoenix, where he plans to spend the next few days at his ranch outside Sedona, Ariz.

Lerer reported from the trail with the McCain campaign.