In Ohio, McCain Warns Against One-Party Rule

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has told supporters in Ohio that with eight days to go voters could either keep their money or give it to Barack Obama and the Democratic presidential nominee's congressional allies Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

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Republican John McCain is also in Ohio today. He spent time this morning meeting with a team of economic advisers in Cleveland. Afterward, he told supporters that voters face a stark choice with just over a week to go.

(Soundbite of Republican campaign rally)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): Now, this election comes down to how you want your hard-earned money spent. Do you want to keep it invested in your future or have it taken by the most liberal person to ever run for the presidency and the Democratic leaders - the most liberal who have been running Congress for the past two years - Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid?

(Soundbite of crowd responding negatively)

NORRIS: From Cleveland, John McCain headed to Kettering. That's just outside of Dayton. And that's where we caught up with NPR's Scott Horsley who's traveling with the campaign. Scott, we just heard Senator McCain going after not only Barack Obama, but also the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate. It sounds like he's trying to position himself as a check against one-party rule.

SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right, Michele. He rarely campaigns with Republican House and Senate candidates. He takes almost as a given the fact that the Democrats are going to stretch their majorities in both Houses of Congress. And so he's arguing, look, having a Republican in the White House would be a useful check against the excesses of one-party rule. At the same time, Senator McCain says he is a Republican who can reach across the aisle and work with Democrats to get things done.

NORRIS: Sounds like McCain is facing an enthusiastic crowd there in Kettering. I'm curious about his earlier meeting in Cleveland with the economic advisers. Who did he meet with, and what did they say?

HORSLEY: He met with a team of advisers that includes former Governor Mitt Romney, his one-time primary rival; a former congressman and HUD secretary, Jack Kemp; Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. They didn't come out of that meeting with any new proposals. In that sense, I guess you could say this is a closing argument of sorts for Senator McCain as well. He reiterated his proposals to spur job growth, which really begin and end with tax cuts.

He also talked again about his proposal to shore up the stock market by having the capital gains tax rate - by providing a lower tax rate for seniors drawing on their retirement accounts. And he reiterated his plan to have the federal government use some of that $700 billion in bailout authority to actually go and buy at-risk mortgages directly from homeowners as a way to try stave off foreclosures and shore up the sagging housing market.

NORRIS: Scott, John McCain is also campaigning today in Pennsylvania. Tell us about the importance of that state.

HORSLEY: Pennsylvania is the state where John McCain thinks he has the best chance to turn a state that was blue four years ago into a red state. That's not necessarily backed up by a lot of the public polls that have been done, but the McCain campaign insists their own polling and some of the details within those public polls suggest they do have a shot, especially in Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania where Senator McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has been popular with some of the outdoorsmen, with some of the social conservatives. So he's been spending a lot of time in Pennsylvania.

NORRIS: Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Scott Horsley traveling with the John McCain campaign in Ohio.

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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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