ZANESVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Sunday fought to distance himself from unpopular President George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama attempted to attach them at the hip on a day of fierce campaigning.
“Do we share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? Of course. But I’ve stood up against my party, not just President Bush but others, and I’ve got the scars to prove it,” McCain told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on a day he held events in both Iowa and Ohio.
Obama quickly seized on McCain’s comment in a speech in Denver, saying McCain was “finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common.”
“We’re not going to let George Bush pass the torch to John McCain,” Obama told a crowd of more than 100,000 supporters who jammed a downtown Denver park and sprawled up the steps of the Colorado state capitol building.
McCain, in his “Meet the Press” interview and at his campaign events, shrugged off opinion polls showing him far behind Obama in the campaign, saying he senses the race is tightening just over a week ahead of the November 4 election.
It was the 41st anniversary of the day Navy flyer McCain was shot down over Vietnam, starting a 5-1/2 year stint as a prisoner of war.
“A long time ago, today, I had a bad experience and I spent some time in what many of you know as the Hanoi Hilton,” McCain said. “I’ve fought for you most of my life in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate. I will fight for you, my friends.”
Obama and his campaign have attempted to tie McCain to Bush at every opportunity, citing the Arizona senator’s record of voting with the president 90 percent of the time.
Flush with campaign cash, the Obama campaign released a television advertisement that shows footage of McCain with Bush as the announcer says, “He’s out of ideas, out of touch, and out of time.”
McCain said that while he respects Bush, he has disagreed with him on a number of important issues, by opposing increased government spending, challenging Bush on his Iraq strategy and demanding tougher action to address climate change.
“For eight years, we’ve seen the Bush-McCain philosophy put our country on the wrong track, and we cannot have another four years that look just like the last eight. It’s time for change in Washington, and that’s why I’m running for president of the United States,” Obama said.
Obama leads McCain in national opinion polls and in polls in many battleground states, including Iowa, which Bush won in 2004. A new Courier-Lee Enterprises poll gave Obama a 54 percent to 39 percent edge in Iowa.
A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday, however, suggested a tightening race overall. It said Obama leads McCain by 49 percent to 44 percent among likely U.S. voters in the daily tracking poll.
In this poll the Illinois senator’s lead has dropped over the last three days after hitting a high of 12 points on Thursday.
Some Republicans have complained that McCain’s campaign has seemed to lurch from issue to issue and has put in jeopardy not only Republican attempts to hang on to the White House but also many seats in the U.S. Congress.
“We’re doing fine. We have closed in the last week,” McCain said, adding that if the trend were to continue, “We’ll be up very, very late Election Night.”
“I see intensity out there and I see passion, so we’re very competitive here and I’m very happy of where we are and I’m proud of the campaign I’ve run,” he said.
McCain gave a strong vote of confidence to his vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who has energized the Republican base but has come under withering criticism on a variety of issues. Many Americans do not consider her ready to be president.
McCain’s choice of Palin as his running mate was at first welcomed as a boon to his campaign but the scrutiny of her has been tough and some conservatives have said they do not believe she is sufficiently experienced to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
“I don’t defend her. I praise her. She needs no defense,” McCain said of Palin.
He dismissed questions about the Republican National Committee’s purchase of $150,000 in clothes for her and her large family for wearing if they needed it while campaigning, saying a third of the clothes had been returned and the rest would be donated to charity.
McCain said Palin lives a “frugal life.”
“I’m so proud of the way she ignites the crowds. The way she has conducted herself in my view is incredibly admirable,” McCain said.
Additional reporting by John Whitesides and Andrew Quinn; editing by Mohammad Zargham