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McCain makes his closing arguments

Behind in the polls and in key swing states, he throws everything he can at Obama.

By Staff writer / October 30, 2008

Last lap: Senator McCain at a rally in Miami.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS

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Washington

The latest slam against Barack Obama doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue: “redistributionist in chief.”

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But at this point in the presidential campaign, underdog Republican John McCain will take what he can get.

The surfacing of a seven-year-old interview from a Chicago public radio archive, in which Professor Obama spoke of “redistributive change,” has fueled the charge that the Democratic nominee is a closet socialist.

To conservatives, who have long framed him as a classic “tax-and- spend liberal,” now-Senator Obama aims to be nothing less than Robin Hood.

To his supporters, the 2001 recording merely plays out a dusty academic argument over how to bring about social change – through the courts or through laws.

For Senator McCain, behind in a raft of crucial swing states with just days to go before Election Day, the resurfaced recording isn’t the game-changer he needs. But it does add another piece to what can be called McCain’s “kitchen sink” final argument, in which he is summarizing all the charges against Obama and personal associations that McCain hopes will sway undecided voters and even some of the decided.

Indeed, polls are tightening, as they always do at the end of a campaign. Del Ali, pollster for the nonpartisan Research 2000, which is running surveys in many battleground states, says the “redistributionist” argument has not changed the fundamental shape of the race.

“At this point, I mean, they’ve done everything they can in terms of going after Obama,” says Mr. Ali. “What’s going to change, really?”

But in Florida, a must-win state for McCain, one local political expert believes the “redistributionist” argument may help explain why polls have tightened.

“Florida is really a state that’s dominated by small businesses, and that argument bothers small-business owners a lot,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. “It bothers older voters a lot, too. And those are two high-turnout groups.”

McCain has not staged an elaborate closing argument, in the way that the flush Obama campaign was able to purchase a half-hour of TV time Wednesday night on seven networks simultaneously for an infomercial.

Rather, McCain has been dishing out his final arguments the old-fashioned way, in speeches and interviews in key states. Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurzelbacher from Toledo, Ohio, who has come to represent the working-class dreams of success of many Americans, remains a fixture in McCain’s discourse – and has even appeared himself on the stump. It was Obama’s comment to Mr. Wurzelbacher on Oct. 13 – about how he wants to “spread the wealth around” – that gave the WBEZ-FM interview from 2001 added currency.

Speaking Monday in Dayton, Ohio, McCain went from Joe the Plumber to “Barack the Redistributor” without skipping a beat. “This is what change means for Barack the Redistributor,” the Arizona senator told the crowd in a high school gymnasium. “It means taking your money and giving it to someone else.”

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