DEFIANCE, Ohio - Spurred by the latest statistics that confirm the rocky state of the economy, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain exhorted their supporters yesterday to intensify their efforts as the marathon presidential race turns into a sprint to the finish line.
With five days before Election Day, the candidates stepped up their schedules, adding stops and rallies as they traveled to more battleground states. Throughout, the focus was on the economy, the issue that has dominated the last weeks of the campaign, and on the importance of voting.
Speaking in Defiance, Ohio, McCain told his backers that they faced an uphill fight against the Democrats, but that they should battle on despite polls showing the GOP trailing nationally and in key states.
McCain derided Obama, who bought a half-hour on most networks Wednesday night. The political infomercial was watched by 21.7 percent of households in the top 56 local markets, Nielsen Media Research reported yesterday.
"He gave his first address to the nation before the election," McCain chided. The Arizona Republican then put his own spin on Obama's comments in an interview with ABC News.
"Last night Senator Obama said that if he lost he would return to the Senate and he would try again in four years with a second act," McCain said. "That sounds like a great idea to me. Let's make it happen."
The McCain campaign's decision to spend two of the campaign's five remaining days in Ohio underscored the importance of the state's 20 electoral votes, which went Republican in 2004.
"I need your energy, I need your enthusiasm. I know history - I know the last time anyone was elected president of the United States without carrying the state of Ohio was John F. Kennedy," said McCain, who planned stops in Sandusky, Elyria and Mentor before heading to Youngstown for the night.
Obama spent his second day in Florida, before leaving for a whirlwind of visits to states that President Bush won in 2004. Among them are Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and Ohio.
Polls suggest Obama holds a slight lead over McCain in Florida, with its 27 electoral votes, and other key battleground states. Democrats appear to have dominated early voting across the nation, but Obama has repeatedly cautioned supporters against overconfidence.
"Don't believe this election's over," he told the flag-waving crowd of more than 13,000 in Sarasota yesterday morning. "Don't believe it for a minute."
The Commerce Department reported yesterday that the gross domestic product shrank by 0.3 percent in the third quarter as fearful consumers cut back on spending. The new numbers, the steepest decline since 2001, provided fresh fodder for both campaigns.
"If you want to know where John McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rearview mirror," Obama said. "Because when it comes to our economic policies, John McCain has been right next to George Bush. He's been sitting there in the passenger seat ready to take over, every step of the way."
"All of this didn't happen by accident," Obama said. "Our falling GDP is a direct result of a failed economic theory of eight years of trickle-down, Wall-Street-first, Main-Street-last policies that have driven our economy into a ditch."
While casting McCain as a champion of tax cuts for the rich and lax regulation of Wall Street, Obama renewed pledges to cut taxes for the middle class and crack down on corporate greed.
In response, McCain's campaign released a statement saying that Obama "would drive this sputtering economy off a cliff."
"If voters looked into Barack Obama's rearview, they'd see that he supported every one of Washington's wasteful spending bills and has voted for higher taxes 94 times in just three years," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "His economic proposals are driven by job-killing tax increases and out-of-control spending."
McCain has ruled out any tax increase while Obama has called for more taxes for families earning more than $250,000 a year. The Democrat has also called for a tax cut for those earning less.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate, campaigned yesterday in Missouri.
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Today, Palin campaigns in Pennsylvania, including a rally in York.