Campaign floundering, McCain retreats to Arizona ranch
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona, (AFP) – With poll numbers slipping, Republican John McCain on Saturday struggled to inject fresh energy into his White House campaign a little over four weeks before the US presidential elections.
As the clock ticks down to November 4, McCain has yet to seize the upper hand from his Democratic rival Barack Obama and has been left trailing in the polls.
Even a gutsy debate performance by Republican VP pick Sarah Palin late Thursday, in which she performed better than expected against her Democratic rival Joseph Biden, appears to not have been enough to turn the race around.
On Thursday the McCain campaign pulled out of Michigan, effectively surrendering the midwestern state to the Democrats, to focus instead on six swing states.
And with more bad news on the economic front, McCain was to retreat to his Arizona ranch for the weekend, in a highly unusual disappearing act at the height of the campaign.
Missouri, where Thursday's debate was held, is one of the key states in play -- along with Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Ohio -- and Republicans there acknowledged there was work to be done.
"Senator McCain has to win Missouri to win the White House. So there is a strong commitment from the McCain-Palin campaign to make sure that we deliver Missouri," said the party's state executive director Jared Craighead.
Obama meanwhile campaigning in Pennsylvania vowed to protect taxpayers and homeowners from the fallout of the Wall Street crisis.
"I'm glad to see we finally got this dealt with," Obama told reporters after the House of Representatives gave final approval to the rescue plan under which the Treasury will buy billions of dollars in mortgage-related debt.
McCain called the financial bailout package passed by Congress Friday a necessary "outrage" and vowed to clean up Wall Street if elected.
"This rescue bill is not perfect, and it is an outrage that it's even necessary," he said. "But we must stop the damage to our economy done by corrupt and incompetent practices on Wall Street and in Washington."
Despite McCain's dash back to Washington last week to try to get a deal on the table, Obama was widely credited with helping to break the deadlock among lawmakers.
Obama said he had lobbied a number of Democratic lawmakers who wanted assurances from him "as potentially the next president" that he would follow through on efforts to prevent foreclosures.
A slew of polls have put Obama firmly ahead both nationally and in key swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania ahead of the polls.
And they have suggested that voters blame Republicans for the country's economic woes and trust Obama more with fixing the downturn.
New figures showed the sputtering economy lost 159,000 jobs in September, as the weight of the housing collapse and credit crunch hit a broad swath of industries.
Palin, the first time Alaska governor plucked from obscurity by McCain in late August, stood her ground against Biden late Thursday in the only vice presidential debate of the 2008 White House race.
A record 69.9 million people in the United States tuned in, eclipsing the previous best mark set in 1984 when 56.7 million watched Geraldine Ferraro's televised tussle with George H.W. Bush.
Palin's performance thrilled the party's conservative base, following days of concern over her ability, and she told Fox news on Friday that she had a ball doing the debate.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a great opportunity to get to speak directly to Americans. That's how I looked at it when I walked into there saying, you know, we're not going to be filtered," Palin said.
And she said she felt there had been "some good chemistry" with Biden, who on Friday attended a military ceremony in Delaware for his son, Beau, who like Palin's son, is being deployed to Iraq.
Palin also vowed to be more available to the media in the coming weeks after being kept at a distance by the McCain campaign.
"I look forward to speaking to the media more and more everyday and providing whatever access the media would want. My life is certainly an open book."
Her campaign released tax and income records showing that Palin, who regularly tells voters she knows what it is like to struggle to pay the bills, earns nearly 200,000 and has substantial savings.
But while acknowledging Palin's better-than-expected performance during the debate, The New York Times blasted her selection as McCain's running mate.
"In the end, the debate did not change the essential truth of Ms. Palin's candidacy," the newspaper opined. "Mr. McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice that shattered the image he created for himself as the honest, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment."