GREEN, Ohio — John McCain's campaign continued to hammer away at Barack Obama's economic plan Wednesday, with Sarah Palin calling him "Barack the wealth-spreader," while Obama said their attacks smelled of desperation.
Again invoking "Joe the plumber," McCain and Palin reminded a rally of perhaps 15,000 people at a high school football field here that Obama had told the Toledo plumber he wants to spread the wealth around.
"Knowing that there are a lot of representatives of Joe the plumber around here, it doesn't sound like many of you are going to be supporting Barack the wealth-spreader in this election," Palin said. "And that's because you understand that his plan to redistribute wealth will ultimately punish hard work, and it discourages productivity, and it will stifle the entrepreneurial spirit that made this the greatest country on earth."
Palin's remarks continued a Republican strategy in the closing days of the campaign to portray Obama's tax and economic plans as akin to socialism.
McCain, speaking earlier at a rally of 3,000 at a Manchester, N.H., hockey arena, used Obama's best-selling book to try show that the Illinois senator's policies are out of the mainstream.
"Readers of his book 'The Audacity of Hope' might recall that he wrote about the need to 'spread the wealth around' there, too," McCain said. "He writes of the need for 'labor laws and tax laws that restore some balance to the distribution of the nation's wealth.' He has talked elsewhere about how, in our day, 'the distribution of wealth is even more skewed, and levels of inequity are now higher.' "
Obama, campaigning in Richmond, Va., said remarks such as Palin's signified a losing campaign that was running out of time.
"They have been trying to throw whatever they can up against the wall to see what sticks," he said. "They have run out of ideas."
Obama told about 13,000 supporters at the Richmond Coliseum that "in the final days of campaigns, the say-anything, do-anything politics too often takes over.
"We've seen it before, and we're seeing it again today. The ugly phone calls. The misleading mail and TV ads. The careless, outrageous comments. All aimed at keeping us from working together, all aimed at stopping change."
Obama leads in Virginia by an average of 7 percentage points in public polls, but his lead has narrowed slightly in the past week. He's trying to become the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the Old Dominion since 1964.
While Obama was in Richmond, he worked to assure Americans that he'll strive hard as president to protect the country from attack. He met for more than an hour with national security advisers in a Richmond hotel, talking at length about rising violence in Afghanistan and how to guard against the kind of crisis or "test" that running mate Joe Biden warned this week would confront him as a new president.
McCain and Palin accused Obama of being dangerously inexperienced in international affairs, using Biden's remarks as Exhibit A.
Obama shrugged off Biden's comments.
"Joe sometimes engages in rhetorical flourishes," he said. "But I think that his core point was that the next administration is going to be tested regardless of who it is."
Earlier in the day, McCain stumped in New Hampshire hoping that a state that salvaged his White House aspirations in 2000 and earlier this year can come through for him again on Election Day.
"I know one thing for certain: It doesn't matter what the pundits said or how confident my opponent is," the Arizona senator told supporters who packed the college ice-hockey arena. "The people of New Hampshire make their own decisions, and more than once, they've ignored the polls and the pundits and brought me across the finish line first.
"I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be as Election Day draws close than running an underdog campaign in New Hampshire."
A third time might not be the charm for McCain in the Granite State, however. Obama leads him there by 9.4 points, according to an average of recent polls by RealClearPolitics.com.
In addition, New Hampshire is becoming more Democratic. Democrats hold the state's two congressional seats, the governorship and both houses of the state legislature. Since 2006, Democratic Party voter rolls have increased by 20 percent while Republican rolls have grown by only 6 percent.
McCain's campaign arrived in the state fending off reports that it's curtailing its advertising there, a potential signal that he's pulling up stakes.
"You talk about McCain's special bond here, but he's lost ground here and he's lost it everywhere," said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor. "McCain had a better chance of claiming New Hampshire than any other Republican, but he's not doing any better than a generic Republican at the top of the ticket."
Some Republicans are girding themselves for an Obama presidency.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, addressing a group of party faithful Wednesday in Macon, Ga., said that McCain might lose unless he took dramatic steps to alter the course of his campaign.
"Right now, unless McCain does something drastically different, McCain is in a deep hole," Gingrich said.
He said McCain's sole remaining chance was to focus on convincing voters that he was best equipped to help restore and strengthen economic stability.
(Halimah Abdullah contributed to this story from Georgia.)
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