CHICAGO, October 20 – Barack Obama Monday aimed to put another dent in John McCain’s comeback hopes with a double-bill rally in Florida with ex-foe Hillary Clinton to kick off a frenetic final fortnight of the White House race.,
The rally is part of a three-day campaign offensive by the Democratic nominee’s team in the electorally crucial southern state, as they hope to lock in an advantage with the start of early voting in the state on Monday.
The new offensive comes after Obama inflicted a demoralizing string of blows on his Republican rival over the weekend in the final stretch to the epic election on November 4.
On Sunday, the Illinois senator snapped up the key endorsement of former secretary of state Colin Powell and announced he had piled up a stunning 150 million dollars in fundraising last month.
The Democratic nominee will spend much of the week charging through what was nominally Republican territory, seeking to convert his lead on the electoral map and clear opinion poll edge into a big victory over McCain.
In Florida, Obama and Clinton were to headline a joint rally and several separate events Monday, pitching for a state which had looked solid for McCain, but where a wave of mortgage foreclosures offer the Democrats an opening.
The former first lady is highly popular in the Sunshine State and trounced Obama in the Democratic primary there, but the contest was declared void after Florida violated party scheduling rules.
McCain, 72, was meanwhile on the defensive Monday, attempting to cling onto states that helped send President George W. Bush back to the White House in 2004.
The Arizona senator was campaigning in midwestern Missouri on Monday, after Obama attracted a monstrous crowd of 100,000 people to St. Louis on Saturday.
He will fly onto Pennsylvania, a Democratic state in 2004 and a Republican target this year which now seems clearly tipping towards the 47-year-old Obama.
Just two weeks from election day, McCain’s hopes rested on a hard-hitting campaign of mailings and automatic "robo-calls" to voters in swing states assailing Obama’s character, past acquaintances and record on abortion.
McCain and his feisty vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin were also seeking to break through with claims that Obama is far more liberal than mainstream Americans, and is bent on pursuing "socialist" tax policies.
Powell, a Republican and former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the highest-ranking African-American ever in US government service.
In a stinging blow to his long-time friend McCain, Powell said on NBC that Obama, vying to be the nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief, would be a "transformational president."
In another demoralizing blow to McCain, the Obama campaign announced a record-shattering take of more than 150 million dollars last month — nearly double McCain’s budget for the entire general election campaign.
Despite claims by the McCain camp that the race is narrowing, daily tracking polls on Sunday showed a steady Obama lead.
Gallup had Obama up by 52 to 42 percent among registered voters nationwide, reflecting the last presidential debate last week in which Obama was adjudged the winner by most snap polls.
Rasmussen also had Obama above 50 percent, with a 51 to 45 percent lead.
Obama’s fundraising bonanza is helping him pummel his rival in a nationwide advertising blitz and allowing him to pin down McCain in Republican states, stretching his foe’s resources even further.
The Democrat said in North Carolina that he was "beyond honored and deeply humbled to have the support of General Colin Powell."
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, McCain said he had "always admired and respected General Powell."
"We’re long-time friends. This doesn’t come as a surprise," the Arizona senator said, touting his endorsement by other former secretaries of state including Henry Kissinger and James Baker.
McCain on Sunday renewed his condemnation of Obama’s economic policies as "socialism" and warned a rally in Toledo in the key swing state of Ohio that Obama planned to "redistribute wealth" to the "more than 40 percent of Americans" who are too poor to pay income taxes.