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In Final Stretch, Pitches Show Stark Contrasts

Candidates Visit Same Battleground States

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By Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 27 -- The presidential candidates pursued votes in the same battleground states on Monday but entered their final week of persuasion with messages that could scarcely be more different in tone and substance.

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Sen. Barack Obama began offering voters here and in Canton, Ohio, a "closing argument" that sounded much like the opening argument he made when he began his campaign nearly two years ago. It was an expansive, lofty call that emphasized economic revival, played down partisan politics and conjured up an image of election results that could "change the world."

Sen. John McCain, campaigning in Ohio, made clear he would appeal to pocketbook concerns and depend on a tried-and-tested tactic of portraying his Democratic rival as a tax-and-spend liberal. He touted his experience and urged voters to look past Obama's speechmaking skills.

"I know it's pleasant to listen to Senator Obama's rhetoric, but look at the record," McCain said. "This is the fundamental difference between Senator Obama and me. We both disagree with President Bush on economic policy. The difference is that he thinks taxes have been too low, and I think that spending has been too high."

Later, appearing in Pottsville, Pa., McCain said Obama "is running to be redistributionist in chief. I'm running to be commander in chief. Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I'm running to create more wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I'm running to make everyone successful."

McCain's remarks showed the steep climb he faces in a contest that has turned almost singularly on the nation's faltering economy. Americans overwhelmingly blame Bush and his administration for the crisis, and McCain has struggled to separate himself from his fellow Republican.

Obama made clear he was not about to help McCain make the case.

"After 21 months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy," Obama told a capacity crowd at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. "Not one thing."

The contrasting statements were essentially a summation of the messages that will dominate the end of the campaign. It is a battle that will be fought almost exclusively in states that powered Bush's reelection in 2004 and reinforces the notion that McCain must win almost all of them to claim the White House.

His campaign has identified Pennsylvania as the largest Democratic state it hopes to flip. But polls show the front-running Obama with a substantial lead here, and he is taking the fight to McCain -- just to begin the week, hitting Ohio, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, all states Republicans have counted on.

McCain's comments on the economy came in a speech before about 100 supporters, added to his schedule at the last minute and after a meeting with his economic advisers.

He pledged to do three things as president: protect investments, rescue the housing market and lower taxes to spur job creation.

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