The duo have spent nearly $1 billion to win election

WASHINGTON: U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama drew massive crowds to some of his final campaign rallies in America’s longest and most expensive White House campaign ever. Republican John McCain, looking to score the biggest political upset in 60 years, assured supporters the race is tightening.

“I’ve been in a lot of campaigns. I know the momentum is there,” said Mr. McCain at a rally in Pennsylvania, traditionally a Democratic-leaning state that he must wrest from Mr. Obama. But polls show Mr. Obama leading in Pennsylvania and other key states. Nationally, several major polls show Mr. Obama with a 7-8 percentage point advantage.

With the economy in turmoil and the approval levels of U.S. President George W. Bush at near-record lows, Democrats have high hopes not only of capturing the White House, but also expanding their majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Mr. Obama exuded confidence on Sunday. “The last couple of days, I’ve been just feeling good,” he told 80,000 gathered to hear him — and singer Bruce Springsteen — in Cleveland, in the pivotal state of Ohio. “The crowds seem to grow and everybody’s got a smile on their face. You start thinking that maybe we might be able to win an election on November 4th,” he said.

An earlier rally in Columbus, Ohio, drew an estimated 60,000 people. Mr. Obama has capitalised on anti-Republican sentiment, linking Mr. McCain to Mr. Bush. Mr. McCain’s campaign has tried to cast Mr. Obama as too inexperienced, too liberal and too tainted by associations with unsavoury characters.

Electoral votes

The electoral map clearly favours Mr. Obama. To be elected, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes distributed to states roughly in proportion to their population. In most cases, the candidate who wins a plurality of votes in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes.

Mr. Obama is favoured to win all the states Democrats captured in 2004, when Mr. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry. That would give him 251 votes. He is leading or tied in several states won by Mr. Bush, giving him several possibilities for reaching the 270 votes — winning a state like Ohio or Florida, or a combination of smaller ones.

Mr. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said on Sunday the Democrat has expanded the electoral map by aggressively campaigning in traditional Republican states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada. “We did not want to wake up on the morning of November 4 waiting for one state. We wanted a lot of different ways to win this election,” he said.

Mr. McCain has to hold on to as many Bush states as possible and try to capture Pennsylvania. A defeat there, or a loss in Ohio, Florida or Virginia, would make it extremely unlikely he could collect the 270 votes. Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said Pennsylvania will be “the most important state to watch” on Tuesday.

Swing states

Mr. McCain planned to return to Pennsylvania before heading home to Arizona on Election Day. On Monday, he was targeting states won by Mr. Bush: Florida, Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada. Mr. Obama was also targeting Bush states: Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

Mr. McCain’s advisers noted he has come from behind before. A year ago, Mr. McCain’s campaign appeared all but dead before he rebounded to win the New Hampshire and go on to capture the nomination. Mr. McCain held his final town hall-style event Sunday in New Hampshire. “I come to the people of New Hampshire to ask them to let me go on one more mission,” he said.

There are still many uncertainties that could affect Tuesday’s outcome, including how many traditionally Democratic voters reject Mr. Obama because of his race, whether his candidacy will spark a huge boost in voting by African-Americans and young people, and which side will do the better job getting out the vote. Republicans on Sunday launched the last stage of its vaunted “72-hour programme,” when volunteers descend on competitive states for the final stretch. Democrats unleashed their “persuasion army” of backers scouring their own backyards to encourage people to back Mr. Obama in the campaign’s waning hours.

More than 10,000 volunteers in Ohio were knocking on doors and were expected to hit their one-millionth home Sunday after a five-day push.

Also adding to the uncertainty is the early voting allowed in some states. About 27 million absentee and early votes were cast in 30 states as of Saturday night, more than ever. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in pre-election day voting in key states. Mr. Obama has had a huge fundraising advantage over Mr. McCain. But Mr. McCain and the Republican Party dramatically ramped up their spending in the campaign’s final days and now are matching Mr. Obama ad for ad, if not exceeding him, in key battleground states.

Together, the candidates have amassed nearly $1 billion — a stratospheric number in a campaign of record-shattering money numbers. — AP

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