John McCain enters the final day of the 2008 presidential contest facing what even some prominent Republicans were dubbing a difficult fight as a clutch of polls showed Democrat Barack Obama’s lead widening into the double digits.
Mr McCain, who will on Monday hold last-minute rallies in seven swing states in a coast-to-coast dash, remained defiant, insisting that polls were misreading the mood of the country. On Sunday, the Gallup trend poll showed Mr Obama with a 10-point lead over Mr McCain, enough to push him well into landslide territory.
The last time polls briefly recorded Mr McCain in the lead was in September, before the financial meltdown. Republican pundits, many of whom have been predicting disaster for weeks, said there was little hope Mr McCain could turn the situation round.
Forecasters were also anticipating a record high turn-out tomorrow based on the unprecedented surge in early voting in states such as Florida and Nevada, where almost half of all voters have voted early and where Democrats have seen a surge in registration, particularly among African-Americans.
Suggesting that “prayer” was Mr McCain’s last hope, Pat Buchanan, the former Republican candidate, told the BBC: “I think you’re going to have a civil war inside the conservative movement if this defeat is as large and sweeping as everyone seems to think this is, and if John McCain goes down to defeat with it.”
Mr Buchanan added: “It will be miraculous if McCain can win Virginia. And if he loses Virginia, he has to carry Pennsylvania where he is now behind by double digits. And I don’t see that happening.”
Meanwhile, Mr Obama, who will stage his final campaign rally on Monday in Virginia, which last voted for a Democrat in the 1964 presidential election, yesterday issued a final appeal for campaign donations, saying that the Republicans planned a $10m (€8m) splurge in the final 48 hours of the campaign.
Obama officials also warned supporters against complacency, betraying fears that voters could turn out in lower numbers on the assumption the result was a foregone conclusion.
Making fun out of his overwhelming financial disadvantage throughout the election, Mr McCain dropped in on the Saturday Night Live comedy TV show in New York.
Referring to Mr Obama’s widely viewed $3.5m 30-minute “infomercial” on three network channels last week, Mr McCain described himself as a “true maverick – a Republican without money”.
Mr McCain won over the audience by mocking himself as a “sad grandpa”. “That’s where I get on TV and go, ‘Come on, Obama’s gonna have plenty of chances to be president. It’s my turn,'” he said.
Last-minute schedules highlighted the steep odds facing Mr McCain with both candidates focusing on states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004, some of which were until recently seen as solid Republican territory.
Mr Obama, who will also on Monday visit Florida and North Carolina, is either leading or running even in the 10 most critical battleground states.
Both candidates issued attack advertisements with the Obama campaign highlighting vice-president Dick Cheney’s endorsement of John McCain on Saturday and pointing out that the senator from Arizona had voted 90 per cent of the time with the Bush administration. “That’s not the change we need,” it says.
Mr McCain picked up on remarks Mr Obama made on Saturday in Iowa, when he said there was a “righteous wind” behind his campaign.
And in Pennsylvania, which is tilting strongly towards Mr Obama but still presents Mr McCain’s most viable route to pulling off an upset on Tuesday, the Republican party issued one of its strongest negative adverts focused on Mr Obama’s links to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.