Swing state battles rage hard around the country

Both the Obama campaign and the McCain campaign are engaged in battles for various states around the country right now. This will only intensify in the remaining week of the campaign. The most hotly contested states seem to be Pennsylvania, where Obama is defending against a potential blue/red turn to McCain, and Florida where McCain is defending in the opposite direction against a turn to Obama. Either change would be a substantial hit for the respective campaign.

First, report on Pennsylvania from Yahoo News:

HERSHEY, Pa. – Barack Obama and John McCain fought for votes Tuesday on critical ground in Pennsylvania, the only Democratic state McCain is still contesting on a national political map growing increasingly daunting. With just one week to go, GOP doubts about his chances for the presidency grew louder.

Even two Republicans once on McCain’s short list for vice president sounded skeptical. In a fundraising e-mail on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Mitt Romney referred to “the very real possibility of an Obama presidency.” In the Midwest, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a dour assessment of McCain’s chances in his state, saying Obama “has a pretty good advantage in Minnesota right now.”

Nationally, a poll by the Pew Research Center found Obama with a 16-point lead among registered voters. The survey said Obama had 52 percent and McCain 36 percent, with independent voters supporting the Democrat by a 48-31 margin.

The candidates kicked off their final week of campaigning in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, which hasn’t supported a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years and where Obama is ahead in the polls. McCain is working for an upset and has Pennsylvania as the linchpin to his victory strategy.

“I’m not afraid of the fight, I’m ready for it,” McCain told noisy supporters at a rally in this Republican region that is home to the world’s largest chocolate factory.

Obama’s advisers say they are confident of victory in the state. Still, they sent the candidate to rally supporters in Pittsburgh Monday night and to the battleground Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday. About 9,000 people stood in the mud and a steady, cold rain at Widener University to hear him.

“I just want all of you to know that if we see this kind of dedication on Election Day, there is no way that we’re not going to bring change to America,” said Obama, uncharacteristically attired in jeans, sneakers and a raincoat. McCain canceled a second event 50 miles away in Quakertown because of the dismal weather.

McCain appeared with running mate Sarah Palin, who planned to stay in the state for another rally in Shippensburg. “Pennsylvania, it’s going to be a hard-fought contest here,” she said. “It’s going to come down to the wire here.”

Video report from the AP on the McCain/Palin rally in Hershey, PA:

Local interview with McCain on WHP in Harrisburg, PA:

The Obama campaign is not worried about Pennsylvania on the surface anyway, however, clearly they reserve some doubt since Hillary Clinton beat Obama during the primary and the state only went to Kerry in 2004 by a few points. Obama’s heavily favored right now, however, McCain has been putting a lot of resources into the state.

Next, the battle in central and southern Florida is heating up, so to speak. Report from Yahoo News:

PLANT CITY, Fla. – Barack Obama and John McCain both made it a point to stop by the Parksdale Farm Market for Jim Meeks’ strawberry shortcake and milkshakes as they hopped across central Florida.

Meeks likes to joke that his treats have a lucky ingredient: Both George Bushes stopped by during their campaigns, too, and won.

“You mean, I’m gonna get elected if I drink this?” Meeks remembers Obama asking.

“I said, ‘There’s a good chance,'” the farmer recalls with a laugh.

Joking aside, this is political reality in Florida, a crucial battleground state again this year: No region is a greater bellwether of who will win the state and its 27 electoral votes than the counties that stretch along Interstate 4 from Tampa Bay, through Plant City and into Orlando and Daytona.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was just here; Joe Biden wrapped up a visit Tuesday, and Obama makes another visit Wednesday. McCain has been here several times.

“We have to have the I-4 corridor or we don’t win,” declares Chet Renfro, manager of the McCain campaign in Pinellas County.

Recent polls show McCain with a slight lead in the region, though they show him trailing statewide.

Florida is not only the swing state richest in electoral votes but also the one with a reputation of nail-biting close calls. It was Florida that decided the presidency in 2000 after weeks of hanging chads, recounts and court rulings all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, a mere 537 votes separated George W. Bush from Al Gore.

So far this year, the number of statewide early and absentee ballots indicates more registered Democrats have voted than Republicans.

That’s true, too, at least for people casting early ballots, in two of the most populous counties along Interstate 4, in Hillsborough and in Orange, which includes the city of Orlando, according to state Division of Elections statistics. Those counties’ figures do not include absentee ballots, which account for more than 40 percent of all ballots cast so far in the state.

“In Florida, Democrats have never led in voting before Election Day,” said Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

Voters in the I-4 corridor represent a near equal mix of Democrats and Republicans. In a sign of the state’s importance, Obama in September and October alone has given more than $4 million to the Florida Democratic Party, the most he has given to any state party committee.

Video report on the early voting from the AP:

Florida has been a bit closer in the polls though, in the past couple days, has been trending slightly toward Obama. Again though, this state could be anywhere since, to be honest, I actually think senior citizens might turn out in droves for McCain. No offense to the state of Florida or Sen. McCain intended.