Down to the wire

Candidates appeal to undecided voters during final day of campaign for president

Election 2008

November 04, 2008|By Michael Finnegan, Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta | Michael Finnegan, Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta,Los Angeles Times

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain blitzed the political and geographic map of the United States yesterday as the presidential election moved into its last hours with the candidates making their last appeals to undecided voters and swing states.

The major party candidates sought to cram in one more rally, one more denunciation of a foe and one more exhortation for supporters to go to the polls today. Experts estimate that about 130 million people will vote this year; tens of millions already have waited in long lines to cast their ballots.

"This is going to be close all across the country," Obama told a rally that attracted 10,000 people in Jacksonville. "We're going to have to work like our future depends on it in the next 24 hours, because it does."

"My friends, it's official," McCain told a raucous post-midnight rally in Miami, with salsa dancers, a live band and crowd of mostly Hispanic voters. "There's just one day left until we take America in a new direction."

Campaigning hours later in Tampa, McCain used an often-repeated refrain in the waning days of the election as he spoke to 1,300 people beneath an enormous billboard bearing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pirate flag logo.

"The pundits may not know it and the Democrats may not know it, but the Mac is back. We're going to win this election," he said.

National polls show Obama leading, although some surveys in battleground states are within the margin of error. In order to win the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president, McCain has to carry every state President Bush won in 2004, although Obama is leading in some of those states. Republicans are seriously contending in only one traditional Democratic state, Pennsylvania.

In yesterday's grinding trek through the pivotal states of Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada, McCain was expected to sound his basic campaign themes: that Obama is too liberal and too inexperienced in foreign affairs to be president. McCain was expected to finish last night in his home state of Arizona, where Democrats launched a last-minute advertising campaign in the hope of stealing a state from the GOP.

Obama has linked McCain to the unpopular Bush administration, a tactic he continued yesterday. After Florida, Obama campaigned in Charlotte, N.C., and Manassas, Va., before his return last night to his hometown of Chicago. Both North Carolina and Virginia are Republican states that Democrats believe are within their grasp.

"Understand, at this point I've made the arguments," Obama told the cheering crowd waving blue "Change We Need" signs in Florida. "It's all about who wants it more, who believes in it more. Florida, the time for change has come. It all is up to you."

Obama's last stop in Florida, Veterans' Memorial Arena in Jacksonsville, was the place where McCain famously declared on Sept. 15 that, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," as Obama reminded the crowd.

"John McCain just doesn't get it," he said.

The Illinois senator assailed McCain for his history of opposing tighter regulation of Wall Street, saying his counterpart from Arizona had long embraced Bush's economic policies.

Finnegan reported from Jacksonville, Reston from Moon Township, Pa., and Mehta from Jefferson City, Mo. Times staff writers Johanna Neuman in Washington, D.C., and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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