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Originally published Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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McCain has reasons for persisting in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania might seem a dubious place for John McCain to be spending his time with less than two weeks before Election Day. He is trailing Barack Obama by double digits in polls here. Still, McCain persists in campaigning here. He barnstormed the state Tuesday, from suburban Philadelphia to Harrisburg to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, touting his plans for the economy. Said one pollster: "This is a state where he can be the genuine comeback kid."

Chicago Tribune

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — John McCain is not letting go of Pennsylvania.

This state might seem a dubious place for the Republican to be spending his time with less than two weeks before Election Day. He is trailing Barack Obama by double digits in polls here, the state has favored Democrats in the last four presidential elections, the governor and both of its senators are Democrats, and it's shaping up as a heavily Democratic year.

In other words, McCain's chances of prevailing seem slim.

Still, he persists in campaigning here. He barnstormed the state Tuesday, from suburban Philadelphia to Harrisburg to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, touting his plans for the economy.

Partly this is a story of dwindling options for McCain: If he loses Pennsylvania, his path to the White House becomes dauntingly narrow. And yet, voters here tend to be older, working class, Catholic and rural, with a strong swath of veterans, all of which could benefit McCain.

"This is a state where he can be the genuine comeback kid," said Terry Madonna, director of the Keystone Poll at Franklin and Marshall University.

In other words, the McCain campaign is betting that Obama's support may be soft, and that these are the kinds of voters McCain still has a chance of winning over.

"If you look at the McCain campaign in terms of its efforts, it's anything but a done deal from their perspective," said Christopher Borrick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College whose tracking poll puts McCain 10 points behind Obama. "They still see something in the commonwealth that gives them hope that a lot of others aren't seeing."

Obama, meanwhile, held an economic forum in Lake Worth, Fla., another crucial battleground state, with governors from Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado, as well as the CEO of Google and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

He accused McCain of offering little more than "willful ignorance, wishful thinking, outdated ideology" when it comes to an economic crisis that demands far more.

"While President Bush and Senator McCain were ready to move heaven and earth to address the crisis on Wall Street, the president has failed so far to address the crisis on Main Street, and Senator McCain has failed to fully acknowledge it," Obama said, calling McCain "a little confused" about Obama's own plan for the economy.

McCain, on the other hand, continued to hammer Obama for his remark to Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio plumber, that he wants to "spread the wealth around." McCain said Obama would rather redistribute wealth than create wealth.

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"The McCain-Palin tax cut is the real thing," McCain said, including his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. "We're going to double the child deduction for every family. We will cut the capital gains tax. And we will cut business taxes to help create jobs, and keep American businesses in America."

McCain and his allies also seized on remarks made by Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, that if Obama is elected, there will likely be an international crisis to test the new president, much as the Soviets tested John F. Kennedy with the Cuban missile crisis.

"We don't want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars," McCain told crowds throughout the day. "What is more troubling is that Senator Biden told their campaign donors that when that crisis hits, they would have to stand with them because it wouldn't be apparent Senator Obama would have the right response."

McCain has visited Pennsylvania virtually every week for months, and his advisers say they still think it's winnable. His wife, Cindy McCain, campaigned solo here over the weekend, and Palin has been a regular presence as well.

With 21 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is a prize, but it's one that has gone narrowly for Democrats since Bill Clinton first ran in 1992.

"We don't believe any of the naysayers who believe Pennsylvania is out of reach," said Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager. He pointed out that Obama had one of his largest crowds during the primaries in Pennsylvania — about 32,000 people — and he still lost the state by 10 points.

"Don't believe the press when they tell you you're going to lose a state," Davis said. "The polls are all over the map."

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(Chicago Tribune correspondent Christi Parsons contributed to this report.)

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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