Political deluge in Pennsylvania as McCain identifies state as last hope of confounding polls


Obama's 10-point lead in the northeastern state has not deterred his rival from making a last stand, writes Denis Stauntonin Chester, Pennsylvania

IT'S BEEN raining so hard in Pennsylvania that nobody knows when the baseball World Series will resume, after a game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and the Rays was interrupted by rain on Monday. It was the first time in the tournament's history that rain stopped play.

John McCain cancelled an open-air rally in the state yesterday because of the weather but Barack Obama went ahead with an outdoor event in Chester, outside Philadelphia, and 9,000 people came.

It was so cold and wet that, although the campaign lifted its standard ban on umbrellas, everyone was soaked through before Obama arrived on stage. By the time he started talking, we were ankle-deep in mud.

"This is an unbelievable crowd for this kind of weather," Obama said as the rain soaked his bare head and rolled down his black aviator jacket. "If we see this kind of dedication on election day there is no way we are not going to bring change to America."

Obama is more than 10 points ahead in Pennsylvania, which has backed the Democrat in every presidential election since 1988.

Adrienne Stobee, a store manager who came to the Chester rally, believes Obama will win the state easily.

"The great thing about him is that when he describes something, he lays it out for you how it's going to be. He gives you a clear vision. Senator McCain and Palin, when they get questions asked, it's all just mumbo jumbo. They can't give you answers."

Obama might not be campaigning in Pennsylvania this week had McCain not identified the state as his last, best hope of confounding the polls and the pundits by winning next week.

Among the states John Kerry won in 2004, Pennsylvania is the only one that McCain is seriously contesting, advertising in heavily and visiting repeatedly.

The Republican drew 5,000 people on Monday night to a school gym in Pottsville, a town that grew rich a century ago through coal, steel and railroads but which, like much of the state, has seen its industries disappear in recent years.

The crowd had been waiting for up to two hours but McCain stayed for less than 20 minutes, just long enough to make an urgent appeal for support. "We need to win Pennsylvania," he said. "I need your help. I need your work for the next eight days."

McCain has distilled his message into two key points - that he is a fighter who has put his country before self-interest all his life and that Obama wants to redistribute wealth. The Republican seized on a newly-discovered 2001 radio interview in which Obama lamented that the civil rights movement had failed to effect "redistributive" change as evidence of the Democrat's real intentions.

"Senator Obama is running to be redistributionist-in-chief. I'm running to be commander-in-chief," he said.

"Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I'm running to create more wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I'm running to make everyone successful."

As the mostly white and working-class crowd cheered, McCain jeered at Obama's plan to appear on all the major television networks this evening in a 30-minute commercial.

"He's measuring the drapes, and he's planned his first address to the nation for before the election. I guess I'm old-fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in before presuming the outcome," he said.

"What America needs now is someone who will finish the race before starting the victory lap . . . someone who will fight to the end, and not for himself but for his country."

McCain hopes that Pennsylvania's Democratic primary, which Hillary Clinton won handily, showed a fundamental resistance in the state to Obama. The Democrat upset some rural Pennsylvanians during the primary by describing them as "bitter" about job losses and clinging to guns and religion.

In the past few weeks, Democratic congressman John Murtha described his own constituents in western Pennsylvania as racists, although he insisted later that he had meant to say they were rednecks.

"Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are going to vote Obama," says Cameron Smith jnr, a carpenter from Pottsville who is backing McCain. "If the rest of the state all gets out and votes, we can overcome those two large cities."

Smith acknowledged, however, that many of his neighbours were backing Obama because they wanted change.

Joe Lucas, an autobody restorer who moved to Pottsville from Philadelphia, still drives 130km into the city to work every day. Lucas is backing McCain because he shares his conservative philosophy and he doesn't like Obama. But he's not burning with enthusiasm.

"Everybody's promising everything and I think that's all talk," he says. "They're bad on both sides, let's face it. I'm taking the lesser of two evils. They're politicians."