Change 7 days away for US

October 28, 2008 12:00 am

, Pennsylvania, October 28 – Democrat Barack Obama entered the final seven days of the dramatic presidential campaign exhorting supporters to fight to the end to defeat Republican John McCain and remake the nation.

The White House rivals were to hold competing rallies Tuesday in the rust-belt state of Pennsylvania before splitting, with McCain fighting a rearguard action in North Carolina and Obama on the attack in Virginia.

Despite holding a robust poll lead nationally and in battleground states, Obama, 47, warned against complacency as he prepared to air a costly 30-minute "infomercial" on major US networks Wednesday evening.

"Don’t believe for a second this election is over," the Illinois senator bidding to be America’s first black president said Monday in Pittsburgh, whose withered steelworks are symptomatic of Pennsylvania’s industrial blight.

"And Pittsburgh, that’s why we cannot afford to slow down, or sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this final week," he told 15,800 supporters in the cavernous arena of the Penguins ice hockey team.

"In one week, you can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo," Obama said, his oratory returning to its early campaign heights as the electrifying race climaxes.

"We can’t let up. Not now. Not when so much is at stake," he added in what aides called his "closing argument" to voters.

For McCain, Pennsylvania and its swollen ranks of disaffected, white, working-class voters is must-win territory on November 4, along with historically Republican bastions such as North Carolina and Virginia.

The Arizona senator, 72, vied to reignite fears of "socialism" by citing a 2001 radio interview given by Obama where he appeared to lament the failure of the 1960s civil rights movement to bring about greater financial equality.

"That is what change means for Barack the Redistributor: It means taking your money and giving it to someone else," he told a crowd of around 2,000 at a sports hall in Dayton, Ohio.

In Cleveland earlier, McCain said: "Today he claims he’ll tax the rich; but we’ve seen in the past that he’s been willing to hit people squarely in the middle class."

Obama’s camp responded swiftly, rejecting McCain’s comment over wealth redistribution as a "false, desperate attack," as the candidate tarred the Republican with the taint of President George W. Bush’s economic policies.

"I can take one more week of John McCain’s attacks, but this country can’t take four more years of the same old politics and the same failed policies. It’s time for something new," Obama said both in Ohio and Pennsylvania Monday.

The challenge facing McCain was underlined by his choice this late in the game to head to North Carolina, which has not voted for a Democratic White House hopeful since 1976 but is now a raging battleground.

Virginia is an even deeper shade of Republican "red," having last backed a Democrat for the presidency way back in 1964. But Obama has a double-digit poll lead there, and is hoping the forecasts could portend a landslide in his favor.

The Republican was to address an evening rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the vast Fort Bragg army base, as the former Vietnam prisoner of war hammers Obama as unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.

"I have fought for you most of my life, and in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate," McCain said in Dayton.

"There are other ways to love this country, but I’ve never been the kind to back down when the stakes are high."

Obama, vowing to pull US forces out of Iraq and expand the Afghan theater, has been going toe to toe on national security with McCain — but is driving the economy as the defining issue of this historic election.

Obama’s campaign meanwhile refused to comment on news that two white supremacists had been arrested for threatening to assassinate the Democrat during a "killing spree" of more than 100 African-Americans.

Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, were arrested Wednesday in Tennessee for possession of firearms, threats against a presidential candidate and conspiring to rob a gun store, federal officials said Monday.


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