Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama sought to energize voter turnout on Saturday in the final, frenetic weekend of a long and grinding US presidential election campaign.
McCain spent the day in Virginia and Pennsylvania looking to turn out the vote on Tuesday. Virginia normally votes Republican but appears to be siding with Obama, while McCain is trying to steal traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania from Obama.
Obama, enjoying a lead in national polls and in many battleground states where the election will be decided, sought a knockout punch in three states that went for President George W. Bush in 2004 -- Nevada, Colorado and Missouri.
McCain is on a two-day campaign bus tour through the state of Ohio.Nowhere to be seen on the campaign trail was Bush himself. With a popularity rating below 30 percent, Bush was not asked to campaign for McCain. Obama has consistently sought to portray his opponent as a Bush clone.
The Obama camp gleefully pointed out that Vice President Dick Cheney had spoken warmly of McCain in Cheney's home state of Wyoming.
"I'd like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endorsement because he really earned it. That endorsement didn't come easy," Obama said in Pueblo, Colorado. "Senator McCain had to vote with George Bush 90 percent of the time and agree with Dick Cheney to get it."
McCain, in Springfield, Virginia, ridiculed Obama for a line in his stump speech in which the Democrat says his victory in the party's primary had vindicated his faith in the American people.
"He said the other day that his primary victory vindicated his faith in America. My country has never had to prove anything to me, my friends. I've always had faith in America," McCain said. The Obama campaign called McCain's attack "pathetic."
Americans on Tuesday will vote in what amounts to 51 separate elections in each state and the District of Columbia. Each state has a number of electoral votes based on the size of its representation in Congress. Whichever candidate gets 270 electoral votes wins the White House.
They will choose between Illinois Sen. Obama, 47, who would be the country's first black president, and Arizona Sen. McCain, 72, the former Vietnam prisoner of war who would be the oldest person ever elected to a first presidential term.
If current polling is accurate and stands up on Election Day, Obama will win, possibly by a comfortable margin.
SIGNS OF HOPE
But McCain and his aides see signs of hope from their own polling as well as some public opinion polls.
A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Saturday said Obama's lead over McCain dipped slightly to 5 points.
"There is no doubt that McCain made some gains," said pollster John Zogby. "It is enough to raise the question, is McCain making a move?"
Obama's aides say they have built a campaign operation aimed at winning close contests with hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The Obama campaign is so flush with cash that it took the step of buying advertising time in McCain's home state of Arizona because aides sensed an opening there.
McCain sees his best chance to take away a traditionally Democratic state in Pennsylvania, where Obama has the lead. McCain campaigned in Pennsylvania after Virginia, and was to make a late-night appearance on NBC's comedy show, "Saturday Night Live."
While Obama has many combinations of states that he can use to get to 270 electoral votes, McCain's path is narrow. He has been mostly racing around states Bush won in 2004 trying to defend them.
In Newport News, McCain pounded away at what he considers his best theme, that Obama's plan to tax Americans who make over $250,000 a year could well be extended to include people who make far less and push the economy deeper into crisis.
Obama would raise taxes on income over $250,000 and says he would cut taxes for those making under $200,000.
Some confusion has arisen in these numbers in the past week because his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, said the tax cut would go to people making under $150,000 and an Obama supporter, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, said the tax cut would apply to families making less than $120,000.
"It's interesting the way their definition of rich keeps going down," McCain said.
The Obama campaign dismissed McCain's argument.
"The governor (Richardson) meant to say that people making less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increase under President Obama," said Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley.
Counting down to Election Day, Barack Obama appears within reach of becoming the nation's first black president as the epic campaign draws to a close against a backdrop of economic crisis and lingering war. John McCain, the battle-scarred warrior, holds out hope for a Truman-beats-Dewey-style upset.
Whoever wins, the country's 44th president will immediately confront some of the most difficult economic challenges since the Great Depression.
In that effort, he'll almost surely be working with a stronger Democratic majority in Congress, as well as among governors and state legislatures nationwide. GOP incumbents at every level are endangered just eight years after President Bush's election ignited talk of lasting Republican Party dominance.
It's been an extraordinary campaign of shattered records, ceilings and assumptions. Indeed, a race for the ages.
Democrat Obama has exuded confidence in the campaign's final days, reaching for a triumph of landslide proportions.
"The die is being cast as we speak," says campaign manager David Plouffe.
Undeterred, Republican McCain vows to fight on, bidding for an upset reminiscent of Democrat Harry S. Truman's stunning defeat of Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.
Looking back only to early this year, campaign manager Rick Davis says, "We are witnessing perhaps, I believe, one of the greatest comebacks since John McCain won the primary."
The odds for Republicans in 2008 have been long from the start: Voters often thwart the party that's been in power for two terms. And this year, larger factors are working against the GOP: the war in Iraq, now in its sixth year, and the crisis on Wall Street and in the larger economy. Voters deeply distrust government and crave a new direction.
Republicans are girding for widespread losses.
"It's a fairly toxic atmosphere out there," said Nevada Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the Senate GOP's campaign effort. Added his House counterpart, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole: "We haven't caught very many breaks."
Democrats are looking ahead to expanded power.
"Things are looking very good," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the head of the House Democrats' campaign committee. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Democrats' effort, predicted: "We're going to pick up a large number of seats, and that's going to make Democrats very happy."
The Democrats are reaching for a 60-vote Senate majority that would allow the party to overcome Republican filibusters, and could pick up two dozen or more House seats. Democrats also hope to pad their slim majority of governorships and increase their ranks in what already is their strongest majority in state legislatures in more than a decade.
The implications are far-reaching: Governors and state legislators elected Tuesday to four-year terms will help preside over the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts following the 2010 Census. The party in charge can redraw districts in its favor.
Atop the ticket, Obama leads in national and key battleground state polling, though the race appears to be tightening as it plays out primarily in states that Bush won twice. Among the unknowns: the choices of one in seven likely voters who are undecided or could still change their minds; the impact of Obama's efforts to register and woo new voters, particularly blacks and young people; the effect of Obama's race on voters just four decades after the tumult of the Civil Rights movement.
"Right now, it's very clearly Obama's to lose, and I think his chances of doing so are pretty minimal," said Republican Dick Armey, the former House majority leader from Texas. He said the possibility of a McCain comeback is "getting down to slim-to-none."
An Obama victory would amount to a wholesale rejection of the status quo: voters taking a chance on a relative newcomer to the national stage, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Chicago, rather than stick with a seasoned veteran of the party in power. With strengthened Democratic majorities in Congress, he'd have to deal with the party's left flank while governing a country that's more conservative than liberal.
The Republican Party essentially would be in tatters, searching for both a leader and an identity.
An Obama loss -- or McCain comeback -- would be a crushing disappointment for Democrats in a year tailor-made for the party. It would suggest McCain's experience trumped Obama's clarion call for change, and raise troubling questions about white Americans' willingness to vote for a black man.
Blacks, in particular, might be furious and deeply suspicious of an almost sure thing that slipped away.