From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
CANTON, OH -- In a rousing speech his campaign billed as his "closing argument," Obama laid out the case for electing him over his rival, and returned to a theme that was a central part of his campaign during the primaries: hope.
The roughly 33-minute speech repeated well-rehearsed lines and themes from the campaign trail in recent weeks, but rather than with sharp hits on McCain -- sparked by the news of the day -- Obama spelled out the contrasts between the two candidates in more general terms, especially on tax policy.
He hailed McCain for his service -- a line that has been a part of his remarks intermittently throughout the campaign, yet that has been missing in the past few weeks -- but said he electing him would mean a continuation of the failed economic policies of George Bush.
Speaking before an audience of nearly 5,000 in a hard-hit area of a state that has suffered with one of the highest jobless rates in the nation, Obama portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class and someone who would give tax breaks to working people, not just the wealthy and big corporations, as he said McCain would.
Obama, who spoke with the help of a teleprompter (a common sight at events in recent weeks), stressed the themes of hope, unity, and a new kind of politics more than he has in recent weeks, arguing that the size of the country's challenges –- economic and otherwise -- had outgrown the "smallness of our politics." He added that to resolve the economic crisis the country faces would require getting past the ideological debates that divide right and left.
"In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election; that tries to pit region against region, and city against town, Republican against Democrat; that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope," he said. "As I've said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new attitude. It's about new politics -- a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another."
It was the Democratic nominee's first trip to Canton -- in Stark County, which John Kerry won by just over 3,100 votes in 2004 -- and his 11th trip to this battleground state since clinching the nomination in June, his campaign said.
The senator reminisced about the long road to get to this point, saying the pundits and the polls had not given him much of a chance. He went on to talk about his agenda for energy, health care, education, and ending the war in Iraq. And he said that confronting the nation's challenges would not be easy and would require Washington rein in spending -- without specifying what parts of his agenda may have to be scaled back.
Obama closed his remarks with a long refrain on hope, this time tying it to the American story. He said it was hope that had led parents to work hard to make it possible for their children to go to college, immigrants to travel to America to carve out a better life and that led people fighting for the right to vote "to cry out, "It may look dark tonight, but if I hold on to hope, tomorrow will be brighter."
"That's what this election is about. That is the choice we face right now," he said as the audience rose to its feet.
But he reminded his supporters the election was not over. "We have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does depend on it this week. In one week, we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates new jobs and fuels prosperity from the bottom-up," he said. "In one week, we can choose hope over fear and unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo."
Obama's last words to the crowd before departing for what his campaign expects will be one last trip to Pennsylvania were: "Let's get to work."
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds emailed this response to Obama's speech. "Barack Obama's 'closing argument' is the same old argument in favor of job-killing tax increases and massive new spending -- it's an argument for closing down opportunity while closing down our economy."