All that’s left for hopefuls: Making sure people vote

With a day to go, voters are being inundated with television ads and automated phone calls.

COLUMBUS (AP) — Barack Obama and John McCain uncorked massive get-out-the-vote operations in more than a dozen battleground states Sunday, millions of telephone calls, mailings and door-knockings in a frenzied, fitting climax to a record-shattering $1 billion campaign. Together, they’ll spend about $8 per presidential vote.

With just two days to go, most national polls show Obama ahead of McCain. State surveys suggest the Democrat’s path to the requisite 270 electoral votes — and perhaps far beyond — is much easier to navigate than McCain’s.

Obama exuded confidence. “The last couple of days, I’ve been just feeling good,” he told 80,000 gathered to hear him — and singer Bruce Springsteen — in Cleveland. “The crowds seem to grow and everybody’s got a smile on their face. You start thinking that maybe we might be able to win an election on November 4th.”

Earlier, in Columbus, Obama urged a crowd that police estimated at 60,000 to vote at a nearby polling place before it closed Sunday evening.

“Do not delay because we have work to do,” he said from the Ohio Statehouse steps.

A show of hands showed that most in the crowd already had voted.

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, said it was the largest gathering ever for a local political event, while Gov. Ted Strickland predicted that Ohio “will be in the Obama-Biden column.”

‘One more mission’

In Peterborough, N.H., McCain held his final town hall-style event in the state that put him on the national map in 2000 and launched his GOP primary comeback eight years later. “I come to the people of New Hampshire to ask them to let me go on one more mission,” said McCain, who is looking for an upset victory against Obama.

Polls show the six closest states are Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio. All were won by Bush and made competitive by Obama’s record-shattering fundraising. The campaigns also are running aggressive ground games elsewhere, including Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia.

All that’s left now for the candidates is make sure people vote Tuesday — if they haven’t already.

Indeed, Election Day is becoming a misnomer. About 27 million absentee and early votes were cast in 30 states as of Saturday night, more than ever. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in pre-Election Day voting in key states.

That has Democrats — and even some Republicans — privately questioning whether McCain can overtake Obama, even if GOP loyalists turn out in droves on Tuesday. Obama may already have too big of a head start in critical states such as Nevada and Iowa, which Bush won four years ago.

“This is off the charts in some of these states,” said Michael P. McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University.

As the campaign closes, voters were being inundated with television ads and automated phone calls.

In a new TV ad, Obama highlighted Vice President Dick Cheney’s support for McCain. The ad features Cheney, an extremely unpopular figure among the general public, at an event Saturday in Wyoming, saying: “I’m delighted to support John McCain.”

Not to be outdone, the Republican National Committee rolled out battleground phone calls that include Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticism of Obama during the Democratic primary. She is heard saying: “In the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training. Sen. McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, and Sen. Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002.” A Clinton spokeswoman said she disapproves of the ad.

The Pennsylvania GOP also unveiled a TV ad featuring Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, declaring “God damn America!” in a sermon.

Obama and McCain campaigned on each other’s turf Sunday. Obama was in Ohio, a bellwether state Bush won four years ago and where polls show Obama tied or winning. McCain visited Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004. He trails in both.

“I’ve been in a lot of campaigns. I know the momentum is there,” McCain told supporters at a rally in Pennsylvania. Overall, polls show Obama winning or tied in more than a dozen or so states won by Bush while McCain trails in every Kerry state.

McCain and the RNC dramatically ramped up their spending in the campaign’s final days and now are matching Obama ad for ad, if not exceeding him, in key battleground markets in states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

After months of planning, the Republican Party launched the last stage of its vaunted “72-hour program,” when volunteers descend on competitive states for the final stretch. Democrats unleashed their “persuasion army” of backers scouring their own backyards to encourage people to back Obama in the campaign’s waning hours.

10,000 volunteers

More than 10,000 Obama volunteers in Ohio were knocking on doors and planning to hit their one millionth home Sunday.

His campaign reported that Saturday was its largest volunteer day, with more volunteers showing up to work the phones and walk neighborhood precincts than ever before in the campaign. Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, “Our volunteers are completely engaged.”

McCain’s crew says theirs are, too.

“There’s no doubt that we’ve got an uphill battle,” said Rich Beeson, the RNC’s political director. But, he said, “I’m not going into Election Day with any trepidation that they’ve put any state away” by banking early votes. “We still have a lot of voters that we can and will turn out.”

The RNC reported making 5.4 million voter contacts last week, compared with 1.9 million in the same week in 2004, and it says it’s volume has steadily increased since October began. Overall, it says 26 million voters have been contacted by volunteers over four months.

On Saturday alone, the RNC says an estimated 3 million voters were contacted by phone or in person, and it saw so many volunteers show up to help that in at least one state, Colorado, the party ran out of canvassing packets. Some 180,000 were gone by midday Saturday; more were printed.

McCain planned visits to media markets that hit battlegrounds Florida, Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico, and Nevada today. A repeat trip to Pennsylvania also was slated before McCain returns home to Arizona.

Obama planned visits to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia today and a quick stop in Indiana Tuesday morning.

Obama told reporters he would hold a news conference on Wednesday. Later, Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass walked back Obama’s plans, saying he’ll meet the press before the end of the week, but “don’t count on Wednesday.”

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