McCain Campaigns In Va., N.C.

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John McCain has brought his presidential campaign to two states that have been reliably Republican, but this year seem too close to call: Virginia and North Carolina. He has attended rallies in Virginia Beach, Va., and Wilmington, N.C.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris. Senator John McCain campaigned in Virginia and North Carolina today, two states that haven't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in decades but where polls show Barack Obama is even with John McCain or slightly ahead. McCain, who's trailing Obama both in national polls and other key battleground states, acknowledged his underdog status today. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the McCain campaign and joins us now from Wilmington, North Carolina. Scott, John McCain is campaigning in once reliably red states. Is the campaign feeling a bit nervous?

SCOT HORSLEY: You're right, Michele. It's not a good sign for a Republican candidate when he's having to spend time three weeks before the election in states like North Carolina or Virginia. But John McCain doesn't just acknowledge his underdog status. He seems to relish it and he took delight today in giving supporters in Virginia what he called some straight talk.

NORRIS: We have 22 days to go. We're six points down. The national media has written us off.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD BOOING)

HORSLEY: McCain even went so far as to say that Senator Obama is measuring the drapes of the Oval Office.

NORRIS: But you know, you know what they forgot? They forgot to let you decide.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

NORRIS: My friends, we've got them just where we want them.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

HORSLEY: And Senator McCain went on to say that this just means his supporters will have to work that much harder.

NORRIS: Scott, over the weekend, there were hints that we might hear some new economic proposals today, but in listening to that speech, there wasn't much of it.

HORSLEY: No, there really wasn't. And you know this campaign has always been more about John McCain's biography than about any specific policy proposals. And they fell back on that today in the campaign rally here, John McCain's first duty station in Norfolk, Virginia with - he talked about how he'd been fighting for the country since he was a midshipman at Annapolis at age seventeen. And he said what the country needs in a time of economic turmoil is a fighter. Now, that said, Steve Schmitt, the senior adviser to the campaign, did tell NPR this morning that there will be more economic ideas fleshed out as this week goes on.

NORRIS: Now, we heard John McCain at a rally earlier today. We're hearing really sharp rhetoric there from the candidate in these campaign rallies. Do we expect to hear or see a much more aggressive tone in Wednesday's debate?

HORSLEY: Michele, the toughest rhetoric that we have heard both from Senator McCain and from Governor Palin has really not come at the rallies where they speak by themselves but from the town hall meetings where they play off voters and that's allowed John McCain and Governor Palin to get more aggressive. But that said, the supporters of John McCain have really been urging the candidate to take a more aggressive tone towards Senator Obama in these last few weeks of the campaign and especially in the final presidential debate, Wednesday night. Senator McCain has said he's heard that message, that he will take a more aggressive stance. Just yesterday, in meeting with some volunteers who were working a phone bank in Virginia, Senator McCain said he was going to whip his opponent's you-know-what.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the John McCain campaign and speaking to us from Wilmington, North Carolina where he's actually attending a John McCain rally. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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