History in the air, Obama says

October 29, 2008 12:00 am

, NORFOLK, October 29 – Democrat Barack Obama eyed a history-making outcome next week in his presidential battle with Republican John McCain as bone-chilling rain failed to dampen his supporters’ ardour.

While McCain cancelled one event in Pennsylvania owing to foul weather, Obama paid tribute to more than 9,000 hardy supporters who turned out at an outdoors rally in the rust-belt state despite freezing rain and driving winds.

"If we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we’re not going to bring change to America," the Illinois senator bidding to be America’s first black president said to huge cheers in Chester, Pennsylvania.

At later rallies in chilly Virginia, which last backed a Democrat for the presidency way back in 1964, the 47-year-old Democrat said history was in the making but renewed urgent appeals against complacency.

"In one week we can choose hope over fear, change over the status quo," he told a crowd of 22,000 in Norfolk, home of the world’s largest naval base.

But he added: "We’re going to have to work like our future depends on it, because it does."

McCain, 72, once again portrayed Obama as an ultra-liberal politician plotting to raise taxes across the board as the two campaigns traded bitter barbs over who would best protect US workers’ health care.

"Senator Obama is running to be redistributionist-in-chief, I’m running to be commander-in-chief," he said.

But that message does not appear to be resonating with voters. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll said Obama was the first Democratic presidential hopeful since Bill Clinton to lead his Republican rival on taxes, by 10 points.

Obama savaged McCain for running to extend the economic policies of the deeply unpopular Republican president, George W. Bush.

"John McCain has ridden shotgun as George Bush has driven our economy toward a cliff, and now he wants to take the wheel and step on the gas," he said.

Overall, the Democrat led McCain by 52-45 percent in the ABC News-Washington Post poll.

New Los Angeles Times polls had Obama well ahead in two of the biggest battlegrounds: by 50-43 percent in Florida, and by 49-40 percent in Ohio.

And a Suffolk University poll showed Obama surging to a 10 point lead of 50 percent-40 percent over McCain in Nevada, which along with Colorado and New Mexico could be set to flip from Republican red to Democratic blue.

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

At a rally in Fayetteville, the home of North Carolina’s vast Fort Bragg army base, the former Vietnam prisoner of war stepped up his attacks on Obama as unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.

"I’ve been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and I have the scars to prove it," he said. "I’m not afraid of the fight, I’m ready for it."

In a glimmer of hope for McCain, Gallup said 57 percent of voters wanted different parties in charge of Congress and the presidency, against 38 percent who backed one-party control in Washington.

In next Tuesday’s nationwide elections, Democrats are banking on expanding their majority in the House of Representatives and perhaps amassing 60 seats in the Senate, enough to override Republican blocking tactics.

McCain, however, was assailed by new reports of bitter discord between his aides and his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin. One unidentified staffer told Politico.com that the Alaska governor was a "whack job."

McCain acknowledged he had not always seen eye to eye with Palin, 44, a social conservative whose selection as vice-presidential pick has been lambasted by critics from left and right.

"When two mavericks join up they don’t agree on everything but that’s a lot of fun," the Arizona senator said of Palin, who is now proving a drag on McCain’s ticket in polls, especially among all-important independent voters.


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