Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are locked in a dead heat in the bellwether state of Missouri, and McCain is now inching ahead, according to Tina Hervey, director of communications for the Missouri Republican Party.
She said the state party’s internal polls "clearly indicate the mass of people support McCain."
“It is nuts and bolts time,” Hervey explained Saturday from party headquarters in Jefferson City. “We are in hand-to-hand combat and we are very skillful.”
In the last 104 years Missourians have voted for the winner in every presidential election, except for 1956 when Missouri went Democratic and Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower ultimately won.
Missouri has 11 electoral votes.
Two weeks ago, Obama was leading 49 percent to 44 percent in Missouri, according to a Rasmussen/Fox News poll. Although McCain had been holding fairly consistent leads throughout the year, Obama pulled ahead in October after the stock market tumbled, the numbers showed.
Since then, poll numbers have ricocheted back and forth between the candidates, with Missouri surveys alternately showing McCain owning a 3-point advantage and an 8-point deficit. Last week he was down 2 points and closing fast, according to the Oct. 27 Rasmussen poll.
Obama visited Missouri three times last week, drawing huge crowds in St. Louis and Columbia, traditionally liberal centers of a largely conservative state. On Friday, he announced he would also make a stop in Springfield, a staunchly Republican stronghold where conservative Christian values are reflected at the polls.
Obama is scheduled to speak at a Springfield high school football stadium with a capacity of about 5,500 people, city officials said. He drew an estimated 80,000 visitors in St. Louis last Saturday and 50,000 people in Columbia on Thursday night, city officials there said.
“Crowd size is not an indicator,” Hervey said. “Obama is a rock star. People are curious, they want to see him, but that doesn’t mean they are going to vote for him. We have our ground game in place. We are reaching out to the independents, making sure they get our message and get to the polls.”
Obama’s campaign generally issues an advance written campaign schedule to reporters, but Saturday’s Missouri stop was a verbal addition announced in Columbia after his late-night rally drew the curious from all over central Missouri.
Poll watchers in Missouri say Obama is reacting to a consistent rise in McCain’s popularity despite the massive registration effort by sympathetic community action groups to tilt the vote in Obama’s favor.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City are investigating charges that ACORN and other so-called “community action” organizations padded the voter-registration lists with non-existent voters in Kansas City and elsewhere in Missouri.
“We are keeping our eyes and ears open,” Hervey said. “We don’t know what they are going to do, but we are prepared.”
The latest climb in McCain’s popularity started after undecided Missouri voters read widely published reports that Obama is downgrading the threshold for what he considers a middle-class wage earner, Hervey said.
Friday morning, Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson -- speaking on behalf of Obama -- pegged the middle class as those making $120,000 and under, Hervey said.
"What Obama wants to do is, he is basically looking at $120,000 and under among those that are in the middle class, and there is a tax cut for those," Richardson said in the interview on radio station KOA-AM, a 50,000-watt behemoth in Denver, Colo.
McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, quickly accused Obama of shifting the threshold Friday afternoon at a rally in York, Pa.
"So now we're down to less than half of the original income level," she said, citing Richardson's interview. "We can't let this happen."
Hervey said McCain’s promise not to raise taxes is resonating with Missourians who are already feeling the double bite of taxes and deflation, which are hurting farmers and other rural property owners who don’t believe in giving their hard-earned money to somebody “less willing to work as hard as they do for it,” Hervey said.
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