Debates done; rivals eye battlegrounds

The party's independent ad operation is doubling its budget to about $10 million and focusing on crucial states such as Colorado, Missouri, Indiana and Virginia where Democrat Barack Obama has established a foothold, a Republican strategist familiar with presidential ad placements tells the AP. Pennsylvania is the only Democratic leaning swing state apparently left in the party's ad campaign.

While a pullout from Wisconsin is a significant strategic move, it does not represent a full GOP retreat from the state. McCain's campaign has notified Wisconsin stations that it planned to continue to buy air time through Oct. 26.

The Arizona senator's schedule in the coming days does reflect the campaigns effort to defend traditional Republican states of Virginia, Colorado and Florida.

Obama was heading in the next few days to Virginia and Missouri, states often out of reach for Democrats but up for grabs in a year with Republicans under fire.

The spirited debate Wednesday night covered many of the topics that are likely to dominate the final days of the campaign: the economy, taxes, health care, jobs and energy.

Wednesday night, McCain tried to blunt a familiar line of attack when he asserted, "Sen. Obama, I am not President Bush." But Obama quickly turned that argument against his rival in a new TV spot. "True," the ad's announcer responds, "but you did vote with Bush 90% of the time."

Looking to shake up the race, the Republican senator questioned Obama's character and his policies. He linked Obama to a 1960s radical, Bill Ayers, accused him of planning tax increases that would cripple the economy and said he was dishonest about a promise to accept public campaign financing.

"You didn't tell the American people the truth," the Arizona senator said.

Obama ignored that charge and remained calm throughout the debate. He condemned Ayers' violent activities, and denied any significant ties to a controversial registration organization group, ACORN, mocking McCain for bringing them up.

"I think the fact that this has become such an important part of your campaign, Sen. McCain, says more about your campaign than it says about me," Obama said.

He underscored the point at a rally Thursday in Londonderry, N.H.

"?Here's what Senator McCain doesn't seem to understand," Obama said. "With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don't want to hear politicians attack each other..."

In the debate, the two also skirmished over the extent of McCain's support for President Bush over the past eight years. At one point, the Arizona senator turned to Obama and said," I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."

Obama replied: "If I've occasionally mistaken your policies for George Bush's policies, it's because on the core economic issues that matter to the American people — on tax policy, on energy policy, on spending priorities — you have been a vigorous supporter of President Bush."

In Ohio, meanwhile, the state's top elections chief has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in a dispute over whether the state is required to do more to help counties verify voter eligibility.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said Thursday that an appeal has been filed with the high court.

On Tuesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati sided with the Ohio Republican Party and ordered Brunner to set up a system that provides names of newly registered voters whose driver's license numbers or Social Security numbers don't match records in other government databases.

The GOP contends the information will help prevent fraud.

Brunner, a Democrat, has called the issue a veiled attempt at disenfranchising voters and that other checks exist to help determine eligibility.

Contributing: wire reports

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