Obama Makes 'Closing Arguments' in Ohio

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told supporters that they cannot "let up" with eight days left in the presidential campaign. As part of what his campaign is calling "closing arguments," Obama is reiterating the key points of his platform.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. With just over a week before the election, the presidential candidates are working hard to close the deal with voters. In parallel moves today, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are both campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Just ahead, we'll hear from our reporter traveling with the Republican candidate. First to Barack Obama in Ohio.

(Soundbite of Democratic campaign rally)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): We cannot let up for one day or one minute or one second in this last week.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

Senator OBAMA: Not now. Not when there's so much at stake. One week.

NORRIS: NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with Senator Obama. Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi there.

NORRIS: Now, we understand that Obama today is delivering what he's calling closing arguments. What's new there?

GONYEA: Well, it's a courtroom term. And in closing arguments of a case, you don't get a lot of new stuff. You get all the key points packaged into a concise coherent narrative for the jury, or in this case, of course, the voters. And it really is kind of a greatest hits speech. Let me just tick off some of the highlights. It'll all sound familiar. That it's time to end the era of George W. Bush, the era of too much deregulation and too much greed that have brought the economy to this crisis that we're seeing now. That it's time to end the Iraq war and just spend the billions a month that are going there on other priorities.

He talked about the respect that he has for John McCain, but that John McCain is wrong on the issues. And there was also, though, a sense - something that we've started to see in recent weeks in the campaign - of preparing Americans for the sacrifices that they are going to have to face once a new president takes over.

NORRIS: So a concise narrative with lots of familiar themes. But did you see or hear a change in tone?

GONYEA: Yes. It's all about the urgency. I mean, the election is upon us. People are already voting all across the country in early voting. And a lot of this speech - I'd actually like to play a pretty lengthy segment of it for you, the closing - what it does is it brings us back in a lot of ways full circle to where he was when he started this campaign in Springfield, Illinois, 21 months ago. And the themes that drove that speech are the themes that drive this speech. Listen to the ending today.

(Soundbite of Democratic campaign rally)

Senator OBAMA: In one week, we can choose hope over fear and unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. In one week, we can come together as one nation and one people and once more choose our better history. That's what's at stake. That's what we're fighting for. And if in this last week you'll knock on some doors for me and make some calls for me and talk to your neighbors and convince your friends, if you'll stand with me and fight with me and give me your vote, then I promise you we will not just win Ohio, we will win this general election. And together we'll change this country, and we will change the world. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Let's get to work.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

(Soundbite of song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours")

NORRIS: And there we hear the beginning strains of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Barack Obama's signature song. The race is not yet delivered for him, so what's the strategy with one week to go?

GONYEA: It'll be battleground states the rest of the way. Ohio and Pennsylvania today, Pennsylvania again tomorrow, Florida on Wednesday. After that we don't know specifically where, but a lot of the states will be places where Republicans have won the past couple of elections and where Senator Obama hopes to win this year.

NORRIS: And before I let you go, what do we know about this half-hour ad buy that the campaign has set for Wednesday night?

GONYEA: What it will consist of is a very closely held secret at this point by the campaign. But it is a half an hour paid time on NBC, CBS, Univision, the BET Network, Fox, and MSNBC. Again, no details yet as to what will be in it.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Don Gonyea speaking to us from Ohio. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: You're welcome.

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Campaigns Ratchet Up Ground Game In Ohio

Lauren Anderson volunteers for the Ohio Republican Party i i

Lauren Anderson, a senior at Miami of Ohio University, volunteers for the state Republican Party. Anderson prepares pamphlets for Sen. John McCain and local candidates before canvassing a street in Fairfield, Ohio. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Lauren Anderson volunteers for the Ohio Republican Party

Lauren Anderson, a senior at Miami of Ohio University, volunteers for the state Republican Party. Anderson prepares pamphlets for Sen. John McCain and local candidates before canvassing a street in Fairfield, Ohio.

David Gilkey/NPR
Pat Palumbo, a registered Republican, aerates his yard in Fairfield, Ohio i i

Pat Palumbo, a registered Republican, aerates his yard in Fairfield, Ohio. Palumbo plans to vote the Republican ticket both nationally, for Sen. John McCain, and locally in Butler County, Ohio. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Pat Palumbo, a registered Republican, aerates his yard in Fairfield, Ohio

Pat Palumbo, a registered Republican, aerates his yard in Fairfield, Ohio. Palumbo plans to vote the Republican ticket both nationally, for Sen. John McCain, and locally in Butler County, Ohio.

David Gilkey/NPR
Retired schoolteacher Mike Boulware walks a northern Columbus neighborhood in support Democrats i i

Retired schoolteacher Mike Boulware, a neighborhood team leader, walks a northern Columbus neighborhood in support of the Democratic ticket. Boots on the ground is just one way Republicans and Democrats are getting their messages out to voters. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Retired schoolteacher Mike Boulware walks a northern Columbus neighborhood in support Democrats

Retired schoolteacher Mike Boulware, a neighborhood team leader, walks a northern Columbus neighborhood in support of the Democratic ticket. Boots on the ground is just one way Republicans and Democrats are getting their messages out to voters.

David Gilkey/NPR

With just over a week until the election, both the McCain and Obama campaigns are focused on organizing on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in Ohio, a perennial swing state that helped decide the election in 2004.

No Republican has won the White House without Ohio. And this year, it's a pivotal red state that John McCain is fighting to hang on to.

But this weekend, football was more important than politics in Ohio. Everyone, it seemed, was obsessing about the Ohio State-Penn State game, which Ohio State lost. Either way, football was the backdrop to everything. Lauren Anderson, a McCain volunteer, said they watch every Buckeye game while in the campaign office, looking for the nail-biting moments.

"'Cause if we call people, then they start screaming into the phone, yelling at the teams," Anderson explained. Or yelling at the campaign worker for interrupting.

When it wasn't game time this weekend, Anderson, a 21-year-old college student, was with other volunteers. They were walking the streets of Butler County, an outer suburb of Cincinnati that has tended to vote conservative. Voters there turned out big for President Bush in 2004.

GOP's Battle-Tested Ground Game

At this late stage, most of these visits are about making sure people plan to vote. They may seem like casual conversations, but the doors to knock on and the questions to ask are carefully planned out in places like McCain's Ohio headquarters in Columbus.

In 2000 and 2004, even Democrats marveled at the GOP ground game. The party perfected the science of microtargeting voters. Paul Lindsay, a McCain official, said their technology has only gotten better and more efficient. He points to the headquarters' phones as an example. "These are VOIP phones — voice over Internet protocol," he says.

As gadgety as that sounds, these VOIP phones do a lot. They look like your average desktop phone, but they have a screen. The name of a voter pops up. A volunteer can read the questions to ask. Volunteers can take the answers and punch them directly into the phone.

"When these volunteers then go out on the weekends to do door-to-door and to do canvassing, they know what the response was on the phone," Lindsay says. "They know this person might be a teacher; she might think education is an important issue to her."

The McCain campaign is confident in its battle-tested technology. It also knows what it is up against.

Obama's Army Of Volunteers

Barack Obama was in Columbus a few weeks ago, telling a ballroom full of volunteers that the time had come to put his vast organization to the test. In Ohio, Obama has outspent McCain on organizing, and the Democrat has twice as many campaign offices.

The Obama campaign says that its greatest strength is the volunteers who have been working their own neighborhoods for months — people like Mike Boulware, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Columbus. Boulware said he is kicking himself for not organizing in 2004.

"Both my wife and I are active in the Obama campaign," he said. "If we could have done more in the last election, because it was such a close election, maybe the current president wouldn't be president."

Obama volunteers like Mike are going door to door, or calling and text messaging people. A new ABC News poll found that in eight tossup states, including Ohio, 42 percent of voters said they have been contacted by the Obama campaign; 29 percent said the McCain campaign has reached out.

Linda Paxton received a visit from Boulware and his team. She said her apartment complex, just on the outskirts of the city of Columbus, has been an epicenter of political activity.

"I haven't seen any Republicans come knocking on my door, though," she said.

Paxton didn't have much time to talk — Buckeyes football. "I'm getting ready to go to the game," she said, laughing.

Same with half the state of Ohio, it seemed. The campaigns are just hoping for that kind of enthusiasm on Election Day.

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