JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. John McCain finds himself in an odd position for a Republican presidential candidate, fighting to hold onto states that have long been GOP strongholds. Take Virginia, a state that last went Democratic in 1964. McCain trails Barack Obama in polls there, and he spoke there today after a stop in another suddenly purple state, North Carolina. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the McCain campaign. And Scott, is it safe to say that John McCain seems to be defending the bunker?
SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right. And, as you say, these are not states the GOP is used to having to fight for at this stage of a campaign. Now Senator McCain's aides like to say if he can simply hold onto all the red states that President Bush won four years ago, he will win the election. That's the bunker strategy. But here's the electoral map. Between them, Virginia and North Carolina have 28 electoral votes. Take those away from George Bush's total four years ago, and the GOP doesn't carry the election. On the other hand, if Barack Obama were to win the states John Kerry did and add North Carolina and Virginia, he'd be over the top. That's why we're seeing this very fierce battle going on in these traditional red states. And John McCain admitted in North Carolina today, it's a tough contest to have.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): And I've been around politics a long time, but the enthusiasm that we're seeing here recently has been overwhelming and gives me the confidence that we're on a roll, and we're going to win.
LYDEN: So, Scott, are you seeing that kind of enthusiasm in Senator McCain's crowds?
HORSLEY: Well, of course, these are the partisans, so they're always enthusiastic. But in the past, that enthusiasm has been kind of diffuse. People have talked about Senator McCain's patriotism, his military record. What's happened in just the last few days is that excitement has really focused around this lightning rod of Joe the Plumber that Senator McCain talked about in the last debate a few days ago.
The followers have seized on Joe the Plumber as a symbol of their concern that Senator Obama would raise their taxes. Never mind that the real Joe, Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher, will almost certainly qualify for a tax cut under Obama's plan. Now, I talked to a lot of people who said they simply don't believe that Obama would only raise taxes on those making $250,000. They're worried that his tax hikes would affect them.
LYDEN: NPR's Scott Horsley with the McCain campaign in Virginia. Thanks a lot, Scott.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Jacki.
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