A scrappy McCain fights on despite odds
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:34 pm
By LIZ SIDOTI
Associated Press Writer
HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) — John McCain repeatedly implores backers to “stand up and fight” these days, showing gritty determination even as many indicators point to a Barack Obama victory and Republicans engage in fingerpointing typical of losing campaigns.
“Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. And we never quit,” McCain declares.
A week before Election Day, the Republican is an enthusiastic underdog with what advisers say is a deep personal belief that he still has a chance to stage an upset next week.
He has come back from the brink politically and personally before, and they say, he’s resolved to do so again despite steep challenges.
In the homestretch, he tells people to ignore the pundits who project an Obama triumph and the polls that favor the Democrat.
He scorns Obama’s confident air in the waning days as a premature “victory lap.” He says the country deserves “someone who will fight ’til the end.” And, he says a GOP victory is within reach.
Some GOP pessimists have suggested he follow the example of Bob Dole, who, once he fell well behind Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, shifted his campaign from states with the tightest presidential races to those where his appearance could most help Republican candidates for lesser offices. But McCain has steadfastly focused on the closest presidential battleground states.
Even so, the very real possibility of a loss — and life after the campaign — has crept into McCain’s latest pitch. “I have fought for you most of my life, and in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate,” McCain says. Then, he adds: “I’ve never been the kind to back down when the stakes are high.”
Public surveys show Obama leads nationally and McCain faces a difficult path to the 270 electoral votes needed. He’s struggling to hold onto traditionally Republican states. In a troublesome sign, the Republican National Committee was forced to shore up support with TV ads in the often reliably GOP state of Montana and boosted its presence in West Virginia, which President Bush won.
Pennsylvania, which offers 21 electoral votes and hasn’t backed a Republican presidential nominee since 1988, is the only traditionally Democratic state McCain now is going after in earnest. Some GOP aides say it alone may hold the key to a McCain victory. Democrats are doubtful.
McCain also is hearing an increasing number of prominent Republicans indicate they expect he will lose. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the latest. “We face the very real possibility of an Obama presidency,” Romney said fundraising e-mail on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
At the same time, the blame game has emerged in GOP circles. Some Republicans have pointed the finger at McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt; others are rushing to his defense.
And, frustrations by Palin’s allies over her rocky introduction to the public and by McCain’s backers over the Alaska governor’s unscripted moments spilled into the open through anonymous quotes in news stories. Senior campaign advisers deny a rift and attribute the griping of a few junior aides.
The Arizona senator’s top advisers acknowledge the difficulties in pulling off a comeback, yet they insist McCain still has a shot and adamantly deny McCain is going through the motions.
“He’ll close strong,” said senior adviser Charlie Black. “He really believes he’s going to win.”
McCain strategists say private polls show the race tightening since McCain used the story of “Joe the Plumber” to criticize Obama’s tax plans and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden’s comment that Obama will be tested with an international crisis to again label the Illinois senator inexperienced.
They note that national polls over the past week have ranged from a one-point Obama edge to a double-digit lead. And, they say a large segment of white working-class voters has been vacillating between McCain and Obama for months. They hope many persuadable voters break their way.
This week, McCain’s events generated energy in conservative parts of Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday morning, McCain and Palin climbed out of their campaign bus in the home of the Hershey Bears hockey team and drew thunderous cheers although the arena wasn’t filled.
McCain drew applause when he said, “I’ve been tested. Sen. Obama hasn’t” and a standing ovation when he said, “I will bring our troops home with honor and victory and not in defeat.”
The night before in Pottsville, Pa., several thousand people in a school district field house roared approval when McCain and his wife Cindy entered to the theme from the “Rocky” movies.
At one point, he said “If I’m elected,” and then quickly corrected himself, saying “WHEN I’m elected president …” The crowd went wild.