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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. As Barack Obama and John McCain make their final pitches, we are listening closely to what they have to say. By now, the attacks and the applause lines and their stump speeches have been polished to perfection. Yesterday, NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, reported on Senator McCain's speech. Today, Senator Obama's closing argument.

MARA LIASSON: Barack Obama is known for his soaring oratory and his ability to transport a crowd with his words. But these days, he's leaving nothing to chance. He uses a teleprompter at every event, and all the material he needs to make his argument about change is ripped right from the bad-news headlines of any newspaper.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee): It's harder to save, it's harder to retire, it's harder to make the mortgage or fill up your gas tank or even keep electricity on at the end of the month. At this rate, the question isn't just how - whether you're better off than you were four years ago. Question is, are you better off than you were four weeks ago?

LIASSON: Bob Shrum has written thousands of speeches for dozens of Democratic candidates.

Mr. BOB SHRUM (Speech Writer): I think Obama's stump speech is remarkable for its continuity, its capacity to adapt and to take the news of the day and put it inside the structure of the speech and continue to make the same points over and over again. Not always in as abstract a way as he did in the primary, he's always talking about hope, and he's always talking about unity.

LIASSON: In every speech, Obama also pushes back against John McCain. Here, he takes a swipe at McCain's claim that Obama will raise taxes on Joe the Plumber.

Sen. OBAMA: But let's be clear who Senator McCain's fighting for. He's not fighting for Joe the Plumber. He's fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager.

LIASSON: Michael Gerson, who wrote speeches for President Bush and candidate Bob Dole, says Obama's speech has evolved. Now, it's a little less lofty and a lot more populist.

Mr. MICHAEL GERSON (Speech Writer): The speech is very much an FDR Democratic class warfare speech. If you are a CEO, a hedge fund manager, or rich person, you're not the hero of this speech. He's very much running on economic populist themes in tough economic times.

LIASSON: And that's a good thing, says Bob Shrum.

Mr. SHRUM: Events demand a populist argument. Democrats have for a long time been too afraid, I think, of what we fundamentally believe, and I think we ought to go out there say what we believe, stand for it, and fight for it.

LIASSON: Obama's speech is more down to earth than it was during the primaries. The fierce urgency of now is gone. Instead, there is a laundry list of benefits for the middle class, a tax cut for 95 percent of workers, a three-month moratorium on home foreclosures, zero capital-gains taxes for small businesses. There is no talk about how his plans might have to adjust to the wrenching financial crisis, but he does warn that change won't come easy.

Sen. OBAMA: Bush has dug a deep hole. It's going to take some time to dig us out. We're all going to need to tighten our belts a little bit. We're all going to need to sacrifice.

LIASSON: And then he tells voters exactly how they will have to sacrifice.

Sen. OBAMA: I will put more money in education, but I can't get a parent to turn off that TV set and make sure your kids do their homework.

LIASSON: Sounds pretty easy. So does this.

Sen. OBAMA: Imagine if all of you turn off the lights when you leave the room, if you check the pressure on your tanks, if you took those steps that each of us can take to become more energy efficient, it would make an enormous difference. ..TEXT: LIASSON: This cautious candidate clearly doesn't want to risk stressing his supporters this close to the election. Obama's central argument has never changed. A vote for John McCain is the same thing as four more years of George W. Bush. Bob Shrum.

Mr. SHRUM: Over and over and over again in the speech and every speech I've seen, he ties him to Bush, and he does it very, very effectively. But what's interesting is that the superstructure has never changed. The superstructure is change. The superstructure is hope. The superstructure is we're one country. We can overcome our divisions, which I think, by the way, is how he talks about race without explicitly talking about it.

LIASSON: Obama does bring up race obliquely by telling the audience that, at some point, every one of them had someone who stood up for them.

Sen. OBAMA: They might not have been able to vote, but they marched and fought so you could vote.

LIASSON: And indirectly, he acknowledges his own history-making run for the White House.

Sen. OBAMA: Maybe you could run for the United States Senate. Maybe you could run for the presidency of the United States of America. That's what this election is about.

LIASSON: In one week, he says, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation to win an election.

Sen. OBAMA: I promise you, we'll win Virginia. We'll win this election. And you and I together will change the country and change the world. Thank you everybody. God bless you.

LIASSON: And that's right where he started 20 months ago, a consistent and disciplined candidate with a consistent and disciplined message. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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