Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama goes prime-time

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama plunked down $4 million for a campaign-closing television ad Wednesday night and summoned voters to "choose hope over fear and unity over division" in Tuesday's election. Republican John McCain derided the event as a "gauzy, feel-good commercial," paid for with broken promises.

"America, the time for change has come," Obama said in the final moments of the unusual ad, a blend of videotaped moments and a live appearance before thousands in Sunrise, Fla.

"In six days we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates jobs and fuels prosperity starting with the middle class," Obama said.

The 30-minute ad, aired on CBS, NBC, Fox and several cable networks, came days from the end of a race in which Obama holds the lead in polls nationally and in most key battleground states as he bids to become the first black president.

And while it is unusual for candidates to acknowledge the possibility of defeat, Republican running mate Sarah Palin said she intended to remain a national figure even if the ticket loses next week. "I'm not doin' this for naught," she told ABC News in an interview.

Republicans and even some Democrats said the race was tightening as it neared the end. Although Obama made no mention of McCain in his paid television ad, both men sharpened their rhetoric during the day.

McCain, in Florida, argued that Obama lacks "what it takes to protect America from terrorists" as he sought to shift attention away from the economy.

"The question is whether this is a man who has what it takes to protect America from Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and the other great threats in the world," he said. "He has given no reason to answer in the affirmative."

Obama, in North Carolina, said if, "Sen. McCain is elected, 100 million Americans will not get a tax cut ... your health care benefits will get taxed for the first time in history ... we'll have another president who wants to privatize part of your Social Security."

For weeks now, the race has tilted Obama's way as the two men traverse traditionally Republican states — Obama angling for a sizable triumph and McCain hoping to win the White House in a close finish.

Associated Press-GfK polls taken within the past several days showed Obama ahead in four states that supported President Bush in 2004 and essentially even with McCain in two others. A separate survey suggested even McCain's home state of Arizona was not safely in his column.

The 30-minute campaign commercial, purchased at a cost that campaign aides put at roughly $4 million, not only marked Obama's attempt to seal his case with the electorate, but also underscored his enormous financial advantage in the race. He has outraised McCain by far after first committing — and then reneging — on a pledge to limit spending to the $84 million available under federal matching funds.

Obama used his commercial to pledge a rescue plan for the middle class in tough times. "I will not be a perfect president," he said. "But I can promise you this — I will always tell you what I think and where I stand."

Across 30 minutes, the ad blended views of Obama speaking in a setting that resembled the Oval Office, at the Democratic National Convention and elsewhere as well as scenes of Americans discussing their economic and health care troubles. His wife, Michelle, and his two daughters had cameos, and there were photos of his black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas.

McCain sought to blunt Obama's campaign-closing pitch, lacking the funds to match it.

"He's got a few things he wants to sell you: He's offering government-run health care ... an energy plan guaranteed to work without drilling ... and an automatic wealth spreader that folds neatly and fits under any bed," McCain told an audience in Florida.

The Republican National committee on Wednesday unveiled a new ad that seeks to raise doubts about Obama's lack of executive experience. The ad will begin airing Thursday in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and Florida markets.

"Would you go under with a surgeon who has never operated?" an announcer says. "Can you hand your nation to a man who has never been in charge of anything? Can you wait while he learns?"

Earlier in the campaign, former Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as McCain sought to raise doubts about Obama's relatively thin resume on foreign policy and national security matters.

In response, Obama traveled last summer to Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, where he met with world leaders. Later, he tapped Sen. Joseph Biden, who has long experience in foreign policy, as his vice presidential running mate.

More recently, he won an endorsement from former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Conversely, McCain has slumped in the polls as the economic crisis has unfolded in the past several weeks.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he said the economic meltdown, while serious, was temporary, and the nation would emerge stronger.

Besides Obama, he criticized the Democratic leaders of Congress, who hope to command larger majorities in the new House and Senate than they do now.

"We're getting only a glimpse of what one-party rule will look like," he said, predicting deep cuts in defense spending and efforts to shrink America's role in the world if Democrats take over the government.

"Let there be no confusion about the threats we face," said McCain. "I've had to make some defining choices along the way," he added in what seemed to be a reference to his time in the Navy, more than five years of which were spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Obama blended his sharp rhetoric with a more humorous approach as he sought to fend off McCain's charge that his tax policies amount to socialism.

McCain, he said, will soon "be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."

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