Rivals Clash Over Taxes as Contest Nears Climax
PITTSBURGH — Senator Barack Obama, making what aides called the “closing argument” of his campaign, declared on Monday that it was time to “get beyond the old ideological debates.” And then Mr. Obama and his opponent, Senator John McCain, spent much of the day engaged in just such a debate.
With polls suggesting victory is within his grasp next week, Mr. Obama tried to shift into a final stage, returning to the themes of unity and change that helped propel his unlikely candidacy to the verge of the presidency. He warned of complacency but sounded as if he were laying the ground not just for the election but for an aftermath when he may inherit stewardship of a troubled country.
We are one week away from changing America,” Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, told 15,000 supporters in Mellon Arena here. “In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election, that tries to pit region against region, city against town and Republican against Democrat, that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope. In one week’s time, at this defining moment in history, you can give this country the change we need.”
But even as Mr. Obama called for “a new politics,” at least some of his arguments sounded like old politics familiar to veterans of past class-warfare battles between liberals and conservatives. Mr. Obama castigated Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, for “embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years” and for wanting to “give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”
Mr. McCain offered the other side of that historic divide, accusing Mr. Obama of wanting to take money from those who have it and give it to those who do not. Mr. McCain seized on a radio interview Mr. Obama gave seven years ago to reinforce the argument that Mr. Obama wants to “spread the wealth,” as the Democrat put it on the campaign trail recently.
Mr. McCain read aloud part of the radio interview in Dayton, Ohio, in a speech to supporters, who booed the notion of “redistributive change,” as Mr. Obama put it. “That’s what change means for the Obama administration — the Redistributor,” Mr. McCain said. “It means taking your money and giving it to someone else. He believes in redistributing wealth, not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs.”
But Mr. McCain mangled his script in Ohio, garbling a line about “Barack the Redistributor.” Later, at a feisty rally in Pottsville, Pa., he suggested incorrectly that Mr. Obama’s comments had come “in a radio interview today,” though they were actually made in 2001. But he nailed his new applause line: “Senator Obama is running to be redistributionist in chief. I’m running to be commander in chief.”
The two candidates virtually shadowed each other throughout the day as both focused on the contested states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the race may be decided. They started their campaign days about 50 miles apart, with Mr. McCain meeting economic advisers in Cleveland and Mr. Obama unveiling his “closing argument” speech in Canton, Ohio.
From Canton, Mr. Obama headed to Pittsburgh for an early evening rally and ended the day outside Philadelphia. Mr. McCain traveled from Cleveland to Dayton, Ohio, and then later in the day to Pottsville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
Ohio is considered a must-win for any Republican who hopes to capture the White House, while Pennsylvania is vital for a Democrat seeking the presidency. Mr. Obama lost both to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries; Mr. McCain’s campaign had hoped to make inroads among working-class voters here skeptical of Mr. Obama. But polls in Pennsylvania show Mr. Obama with a healthy lead there, while the two candidates were running close in Ohio.
At the McCain events, supporters dismissed prognostications of defeat and held out hope that the Republicans could turn the situation around. “This campaign is so doable,” Jack F. Kemp, the former housing secretary and vice-presidential candidate in 1996, told the crowd in Dayton as he warmed them up for Mr. McCain’s speech.
For the Obama campaign, the polls are greeted with a mixture of confidence and nervousness, and the candidate made a point, as he often does these days, of warning against overconfidence. “We cannot let up for one day or one minute or one second in this last week,” Mr. Obama said here. “Not now. Not when so much is at stake. One week.”
At the same time, the sense that victory is within reach has grown so powerful for Obama supporters in recent days that the campaign dubbed the new speech “One Week” and the candidate’s mere uttering of those two words became an applause line Monday.
The so-called closing argument sounded much like the opening one, encapsulating the message of change Mr. Obama plans to send throughout his final days of travel and television.
“The question in this election is not, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ ” Mr. Obama said. “We know the answer to that. The real question is, ‘Will this country be better off four years from now?’ ”
Peter Baker reported from Pittsburgh, and Michael Cooper from Dayton, Ohio and Pottsville, Pa. Larry Rohter contributed reporting from Cleveland, and Jack Healy from New York.