USA - VOTE 2008

Looming recession threatens a defiant McCain

Criticized by his rival for being weak on economic issues, Republican candidate John McCain launched a tour of Defiance, Ohio, as a reported 0.3 % third-quarter contraction of the US economy undercut his presidential hopes.



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Republican John McCain sought to revive his White House campaign in the symbolically named Ohio town of Defiance Thursday as grim new figures suggesting the US economy was sliding into recession boosted his Democratic rival Barack Obama.

With just five days of campaigning left, McCain launched a 48-hour bus tour of the crucial battleground of Ohio, scrambling for votes in a state which has suffered nearly 100,000 job losses in the past 12 months alone.

The former Navy pilot exhorted supporters to vote on November 4, putting a brave face on polls which showed Obama enjoying a formidable position in a slew of highly contested states the Republican needs to win.

"I've been in a lot of campaigns and I've seen momentum, and I can feel momentum in this room tonight -- I can feel it," a pumped up McCain roared at a rally later Thursday.

But McCain's tour got underway against a backdrop of gloomy economic data which indicated a recession may be looming, as the government reported a 0.3 percent contraction in the third quarter.

His campaign warned Obama's economic manifesto would make things worse.

"Today's announcement ... confirms what Americans already knew: the economy is shrinking," McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin said in a statement. "Barack Obama would accelerate this dangerous course."

But Obama, 47, pounced and said at rallies in Florida and Virginia that his rival would pursue what he sees as failed Republican economic policies.

"If you want to know where John McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rear-view mirror. Because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has been right next to (President) George Bush," he said.

"He's been sitting there in the passenger seat, ready to take over, every step of the way," Obama said. "It is time to change drivers. It is time to have somebody else at the wheel."

In a separate interview with NBC News Obama said the job facing the president-elect taking office on January 20 had gotten much harder as a result of the financial crisis.

"It's going to be a lot tougher. I don't think there's any doubt about that. We know that the next president is likely to inherit a significant recession," Obama said.

McCain has struggled to compete with Obama on economic policy as polls show the issue remains the overwhelming concern for voters.

In an effort to present himself as a champion of working class voters Thursday, McCain was joined on the trail by Ohio plumber Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe The Plumber."

Wurzelbacher, who has been adopted as McCain's official mascot after quizzing Obama about his tax plan for small businesses, urged supporters to vote for a "real American."

"I didn't want to sit on the sidelines because this election's way too important," Wurzelbacher told a rally late Thursday. "So get out and vote, and vote for a real American -- John McCain."

Meanwhile, television ratings figures showed Obama scoring a hit with his 30-minute primetime infomercial which aired on Wednesday, pulling in almost 22 percent of US households, Nielsen Ratings.

Latest polls showed Obama with a solid lead nationally, and across the electoral map, and even pushing McCain in his home state of Arizona.

Rasmussen's daily tracking poll Thursday put Obama up five points, 51 to 46 points, reversing a tightening which cut the gap to three points on Wednesday.

Another new survey by Mason-Dixon for MSNBC found that Obama was surprisingly pulling within reach of McCain on his home turf of Arizona, with the Republican leading 48 to 44 percent.

But there was a glimmer of hope for McCain, as the same firm had him down by only four points, 47 percent to 43 percent, in Pennsylvania, a Democratic state in recent elections he must flip to have a chance of reaching the White House.

Other recent surveys in Pennsylvania have given Obama a wider lead.

Obama's campaign meanwhile announced that former vice president Al Gore, whom many Democrats believe was cheated out of the White House by the 2000 recount in Florida, would campaign in the state for the Illinois senator on Friday.

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