Fueled by emotional appeals from high-profile surrogates, John McCain and Barack Obama scoured for votes Friday across a wide swath of America as swarms of presidential partisans prepared for a final weekend push before election day.
In Columbus, Ohio, McCain received a rousing introduction from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the nominee closed out a two-day bus trip through the state, where he trails in the latest polls. Schwarzenegger, with his movie-star presence, implored voters to side with McCain.
“We don’t have to worry: ‘Is he ready to be president of the United States?’ ” said Schwarzenegger, who did similar duty in 2004 for President Bush. “John McCain has served his country longer from a POW camp than his opponent has served in the United States Senate.”
Obama dispatched Al Gore to Florida -- a merging of man and state that served as painful symbolism to Democrats of the need to cast every ballot.
“Vote early. Take people with you to the polls,” the former vice president said at a rally in Coconut Creek. Gore’s 2000 campaign foundered in Florida after ballot problems led to a long legal standoff. The Supreme Court ultimately determined that Bush had won the presidency with a 537-vote margin in Florida.
“Make sure,” Gore said, “that every vote is voted.”
Throughout the day, McCain was on the offensive and Obama was trying not to offend, attitudes that illustrated the placement of the candidates with four long days left before the polls close Tuesday night.
Obama, who made a nostalgic stop in Iowa before campaigning in usually Republican Indiana, continues to hold on to a lead in national surveys and in polls in key states.
A survey of advertising for the third week of October found that the candidates spent $38 million on TV. The Illinois senator was outspending McCain, 3 to 1. More than 70% of the ads were airing in states where Republicans have reliably won -- and where the Arizona senator is struggling.
The total, analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Advertising Project, did not include millions more spent by Obama for Wednesday’s 30-minute ad, seen by more than 33 million people.
The straits for McCain could be seen in campaign travel too: Both candidates were dashing across states won by Bush in 2004. Indeed, Obama intends to spend the rest of the campaign in Bush states -- including Indiana, Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. McCain must win virtually all of them to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency. McCain too plans to campaign largely in Bush states, with the notable exceptions of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Schwarzenegger, who on Thursday told reporters that McCain faced “a very tough uphill battle,” on Friday cast his fellow Republican as prepared to confound such dire predictions.
Yet the site of the Ohio rally only underscored the difficulties: Their appearance at Nationwide Arena drew what was a large crowd for McCain, but about half the arena was empty. Four years ago when Schwarzenegger campaigned in the same venue for Bush, the arena was packed to capacity with about 20,000 people.
Schwarzenegger long has sponsored an annual bodybuilding competition in Columbus, and he joked that he hoped to invite Obama next time because “he needs to do something with those skinny legs.”
“We’re going to make him do some squats, and then we’re going to give him some biceps curls to beef up those scrawny little arms. But if you only could do something about putting some meat on his ideas,” Schwarzenegger said.
“Sen. McCain, on the other hand, is built like a rock.”
Much of McCain’s pitch Friday centered on the economy, and particularly the job losses that have hit Ohio and other states hard.
In Hanoverton, McCain promised to “take care of the working people devastated by the excesses and greed of Wall Street and Washington” and said he would root out corruption in the capital. At one point, he alluded to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican who was convicted this week on corruption charges.
“We just had a senior member of the United States Senate convicted; we have former members of Congress presiding in federal prison. I will clean up this mess and make you proud again of people who serve you,” McCain said, without mentioning Stevens’ name.
At each event, he portrayed Obama as too liberal for American voters and said the Democrat’s tax plans would weaken an already struggling economy. Obama has proposed cutting taxes for those making less than $200,000 a year, while eliminating the Bush tax cuts for families making more than $250,000 annually. McCain, who years ago opposed the Bush tax cuts, now favors making them permanent.
For his part, Obama issued a preemptive challenge to any last-days criticism from McCain, denouncing what he described as the Republican’s “low road” campaign.
In Des Moines, he recounted McCain’s pledge in his 2000 campaign to “not take the low road to the highest office in this land.” But, Obama said, McCain had chosen a different route this year. The Democrat called on Iowans to “beat back this kind of politics” once and for all.
Obama’s visit was a bookend of sorts; his struggle for the Democratic nomination opened with a smashing caucus victory in snowy Iowa. On an improbably warm and sunny Halloween, he stressed the themes he evoked in his caucus-night victory speech.
“We have the chance to prove that the one thing more powerful than the politics of ‘anything goes,’ the one thing the cynics didn’t count on, is the will of the American people,” said Obama, speaking to 25,000 people sprawled across a downtown plaza.
But he also continued to hammer McCain on the economy and what he described as the Republican’s inability to veer from the course set by Bush.
“When it comes to the economy, when it comes to the central issue of this election, the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with President Bush every step of the way,” he said.
The candidate whom Obama surprised in the Iowa caucuses and eventually defeated for the nomination -- New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- was also campaigning Friday for Obama.
In Kirtland, Ohio, a state whose primary she won after a fierce battle with Obama this spring, Clinton leaned heavily on Halloween metaphors with the kind of biting repartee she once wielded against her erstwhile Democratic rival.
“I was thinking about dressing up, and I really wanted to be scary,” she said. “I’ve done the princess stuff, and this time I wanted to be really frightening, so I thought I would dress up like George W. Bush. Then I realized: John McCain took that costume.”
Clinton’s husband, the former president, campaigned with Obama on Wednesday night in Kissimmee, Fla.
Reston and Finnegan are Times staff writers.
Times staff writers Cathleen Decker and Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.
Maeve Reston reporting from ohio
Michael Finnegan reporting from iowa and indiana