John McCain finds himself in an odd position for a Republican presidential candidate: fighting to hold onto states like North Carolina and Virginia that have long been GOP strongholds. McCain trails Barack Obama in polls in Virginia, where he campaigned Saturday, a state that last voted for a Democratic president in 1964.
"These are not states the GOP is used to having to fight for at this stage of the campaign," NPR's Scott Horsley tells Jacki Lyden. "Now Sen. 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."
"Virginia and North Carolina have 28 electoral votes. Take those away from Bush's total four years ago, and the GOP doesn't carry the election," Horsley says. "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."
At a campaign stop in North Carolina on Saturday, McCain admitted the battle was going to continue to be fierce.
"Í'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," he told supporters.
Excitement in the last few days has focused on the lightning rod of "Joe the Plumber," an Ohio man who told Obama that his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that he works for. McCain cited the exchange in the debate last week as an example of how Obama's plan would hurt voters.
Horsley says followers have seized upon Joe as a symbol of their concern that Obama would raise their taxes.
"Never mind that the real Joe — Joe Wurzelbacher — would almost certainly qualify for a tax cut under Obama's plan," Horsley says.
Horsley says a lot of people simply don't believe that Obama would raise taxes on only those people making $250,000 or more. They're worried that his tax hikes would affect them, too.