ELYIA, Ohio—While Barack Obama flew up the East Coast and west to Missouri to maximize his time in different electoral battlegrounds across the country, John McCain hunkered down Thursday in Ohio in an effort to mobilize Republican voters in a key swing state.
The travel itineraries of the Democratic and Republican nominees reflected the latest state of the race.
Obama dipped into three towns—Sarasota, Fla., Virginia Beach, Va., and Columbia, Mo.—that favored Bush in 2004. In a sign of how much the political landscape has changed in four years, the Illinois senator railed against McCain in these Republican areas for being too cozy with the president.
“If you want to know where Sen. McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rearview mirror,” Obama told a crowd of 10,000 in Virginia Beach. “Because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has sat shotgun with President Bush every step of the way.”
In Ohio, where polling shows Obama's lead tightening, McCain embarked on a two-day bus tour that kicked off in the symbolically-named town of Defiance, in the heavily Republican northwest corner of the battleground state. Several thousand people gathered in the cold outside the town’s junior high school to see the Republican nominee along with his wife Cindy, daughter Meghan, and close friend Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).
At the rally, McCain stopped to introduce a newly famous Ohioan, Joe Wurzelbacher, better known these days as Joe the Plumber.
“We’ve learned more about Senator Obama’s real goals for the country over the last few weeks then we’ve learned over the last two years and that’s only because Joe the Plumber asked him the right question here in Ohio,” said McCain. “That’s when Sen. Obama revealed he wants to “spread the wealth around,” spread your income around.”
Wurzelbacher has become a phenomenon among McCain backers, and inspired other supporters to identify themselves similarly as, among others, “David the Dentist,” "Tom the Teacher," and “Tito the Builder.”
“Tito the Builder” even joined Sarah Palin on the stump earlier this week, and warned the crowd that “Everything we stand for is in danger by higher taxes and less freedom."
“Joe’s with us with here. Joe, where are you?” said McCain. He paused and glanced over the crowd. “Where is Joe? Is Joe with us today? Joe, I thought you were here today.”
After a second pause, McCain searched for cover. “Well, you’re all Joe the Plumber!” he exclaimed. “So all of you stand up and I thank you.”
“Wherever you are, Joe, let’s give him a round of applause for what he’s done for America!” said McCain.
Joe showed several hours later, at a rally in Sandusky, Ohio.
“It’s been a long time since somebody has been elected president of the United States without winning the state of Ohio,” said McCain, addressing an enthusiastic crowd of several thousand from a large wooden gazebo in the center of a park. “I need you to turn out in just five days and carry Ohio and carry us to the White House.”
Then, Wurzelbacher took the stage with a passion that matched what they'd shown for the candidate.
"The only thing I've been saying is just get out and get informed. I mean really know what you're talking about when you're talking about it,” he said. “Don't take everyone's opinions. I came to my own opinions by research. Get involved in the government. That way we can hold our politicians accountable and take back our government.”
After the rally, Wurzelbacher worked the rope line, shaking hands and signing autographs. Before a modest crowd in Elyria, later in the day, Wurzelbacher encouraged Ohioans to vote for McCain, who he called “a real American.” And in Mentor, Ohio, a 3,000-person crowd chanted “Joe the Plumber” until he took the mike.
McCain also touted his support for clean coal throughout the day. Ohio, once one of the largest coal mining states, has suffered economically from the decline of the fuel due to environmental, safety, health concerns.
In his first stop of the day, in Sarasota, Obama seized on a government report issued Thursday showing the economy had shrunk by 0.3 percent in the last quarter, its the worst performance since the fall of 2001.
“Now, this didn’t happen by accident,” Obama said. “Our falling [gross domestic product] is a direct result of eight years of the trickle down, Wall Street first-Main Street last policies that have driven our economy into a ditch. And the central question in this election is this: what will our next President do to take us in a different direction?”
Obama headed late Thursday to Missouri, where he will return again Saturday for an evening rally. His campaign announced the late addition to his schedule earlier in the day, signaling increased confidence about the campaign's chance in the traditionally Republican state.
After a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, he will leave the trail for a few hours of Friday to spend time with his 7- and 10-year old daughters on Halloween.
Campaign aides want “to get him home in time tomorrow to play the exceedingly important role of trick-or-treater-in-chief,” senior strategist Robert Gibbs said. “I suggest he go as a Secret Service agent and blend in.”
Gibbs suggested there wouldn't be any photo opportunities, telling reporters that he doesn't want cameras "stalking the man when he is trick or treating."