Advisers to John McCain on Wednesday spelled out why they think he can still win Tuesday’s election, even as senior Republicans prepared for civil war within the party if Barack Obama becomes president.
By Andrew Ward and Daniel Dombey in Washington
Seizing on signs of tightening in some national polls, the McCain campaign gave details on how it could spring the biggest upset since Harry Truman came from behind to win the 1948 election. But Mr Obama retains strong leads in several battleground states.
In a bullish memo released to the press, Bill McInturff, Mr McCain’s top pollster, claimed the Arizona senator was gaining traction from his sustained attacks on Mr Obama’s tax and spending plans.
"All the signs say we are heading to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday," he wrote.
Republican strategists are hoping that undecided voters - thought to represent up to 9 per cent of the likely electorate - will go their way.
McCain supporters say that such voters are concentrated among groups they stand a good chance of winning over, such as working class whites. But the message has failed to lift the gloom hanging over the Republican party.
Chris Shays, a moderate Republican congressman fighting to hang on to his seat in liberal Connecticut, was the latest in a series of prominent party figures to voice dissent. "I just don’t see how [McCain] can win," he told the Yale Daily News. "He has lost his brand as a maverick; he did not live up to his pledge to fight a clean campaign."
In a foretaste of the internal ideological battle that could follow defeat, Mr Shays laid most of the blame on rightwing Republicans, who he said had "hijacked" the party.
An average of polls on Wednesday gave Mr Obama a 6 percentage point lead, down slightly from previous days, with individual surveys putting the margin anywhere between three and 15 points.
"The race will tighten: they always do," David Axelrod, the Democrats’ chief strategist, told the Financial Times.
In an indication that Mr McCain’s message on taxes may be hitting home, some surveys show a fall in Mr Obama’s ratings on the economy, routinely identified by voters as the top election issue.
An ABC/Washington Post poll this week showed the Democrat with a nine-point lead over Mr McCain on the topic, down from an 18-point advantage last week.
However, state by state surveys show Mr Obama with relatively comfortable leads in states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia. Even in Arizona, Mr McCain’s home state, one poll put the Republican ahead by two points - within the margin of error.
Mr McCain stepped up his attack yesterday, labelling Mr Obama a would-be "redistributor in chief". The Democratic nominee responded: "By the end of the week, he’ll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten."