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Obama back to message of hope and national unity

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

Barack Obama sought to raise the tone of the presidential campaign in its final week as he made his "closing argument" with voters in the key battleground state of Ohio yesterday.

At a rally in the hardscrabble city of Canton, the Democrat returned to the lofty themes of national unity with which he began his campaign for the White House almost two years ago.

"In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope," he said.

It was an echo of the inspiring speech that vaulted the greenhorn state senator from Illinois into the national consciousness at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Back then, he captured the mood of disenchantment with bitter partisan politics, declaring, "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States," and describing how US politics often resembles "the systematic organisation of hatreds".

But his rhetorical flourishes have also damaged him in the campaign and, in recent weeks, he has remained more earthbound in his speeches. Mr Obama's aides now say that he wants to emphasise the need for unity after a hard-fought election. The lofty rhetoric of unity did not stop him, however, delivering some harsh messages at his opponent's expense, dismissing him yesterday as a clone of George Bush.

"After 21 months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. Senator McCain says that we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years."

By contrast, Mr McCain's campaign is sticking to the message that his opponent represents a return to big government and high taxes. He is also warning of the dangers presented by the Democrats having a clean sweep of the House of Representatives.

Ohio, where both candidates campaigned yesterday, is the lynchpin in a handful of states that Mr Obama and Mr McCain are now scrapping over and which George Bush won in 2004. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio since Abraham Lincoln's victory in 1860. Its voters have also picked the winner in the last 11 presidential elections.

The Democrat wants to turn his growing advantage in the polls in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, into a rout in the very states where Mr McCain did not expect to have to campaign much. A Washington Post poll gave him an 8-point lead in Virginia yesterday, up from 3 per cent a month ago. In the final eight days of the race he is reaching out to disenchanted Republican voters and independents.

There are even signs that Ohio's white working class voters who have proven immune to the African-American candidate's charms throughout the22-month campaign, are now breaking in his favour. A poll by eight Ohio newspapers showed the Democrat pulling ahead of Mr McCain by 3 percentage points, 49-46 in the state.

The Republican also was in the state yesterday, before heading to neighbouring Pennsylvania, which remains the weakest link for the Democrat. He is trying to tap into the same disquiet among older white voters about Mr Obama that led Hillary Clinton to victory in the primaries.

But momentum is growing by the day. On Sunday, in the once reliably Republican state of Colorado, Mr Obama drew a crowd of more than 100,000, said to be the largest ever political event in the US. Tomorrow, he is making a 30-minute paid broadcast on television as he tries to sway independents who represent more than a quarter of all voters.

Obama's 'closing argument'

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