WOODBRIDGE, Va. -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain rallied supporters in Virginia on Saturday in a state that polls suggest is slipping out of 44 years of his party's control.
"It's great to be here in the Commonwealth; this is a must-win state!" McCain said as he opened his speech to about 7,000 people in Woodbridge. The last time the GOP lost Virginia in a presidential election was to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
McCain commented on the growing trend favoring his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, in the state and nationwide.
"I've got to give you some straight talk," he said. "Let me give you the state of the race today. We have 17 days to go, and we're down six points. The national media has written us off. Senator Obama's measuring the drapes.
"And with the liberal Democrats, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, they're planning to raise your taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq. But with all this planning, they forgot to let you decide. We got them just where we want them."
McCain emphasized his tax plan to the Prince William County crowd, playing to the working-class base in attendance. He criticized Obama's promise to lower income taxes to 95 percent of the country, saying it was equal to a government giveaway that would end up costing the average American family more in the long run.
Instead, McCain endorsed an across-the-board hold on government spending to help the nation's flagging economy recover.
"I'm going to make government live on a budget, just like you do," he said. "I will freeze government spending on all but the most important programs like defense, veteran's care, Social Security and health care."
The crowd in Woodbridge was streaked with broad swaths of red t-shirts and people were holding signs with phrases such as "Keep Virginia Red" and "Experience Matters." The event began with a festive atmosphere, the audience welcoming a candidate in a state that has historically not seen much presidential campaigning. "Don't Stop Believin'" blared through the speakers. Some members of the crowd lined up for pictures with a Sarah Palin look-alike, who was wearing red high-heeled boots, a large golden belt and was draped in an American flag cape.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore opened the event by encouraging the crowd to rally their friends and family in finding new voters to support the Republican Party in the state.
"Now listen up -- you are the key to this election, and the polls are being used to discourage you from working and from voting," Gilmore said. "This race is not decided."
Gilmore is running for the Virginia seat in the U.S. Senate.
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While waiting in between speakers, conversation in the crowd would be periodically broken by short waves of chanting that swept through the audience, echoing a chorus of "Drill, baby, drill!" or "Nobama, Nobama!"
Nick Monaco, 17, a McCain campaign volunteer and resident of Woodbridge, said he was excited about the event.
"I don't remember in my time any president or future president coming to our town," Monaco said. "I'm interested to see how this county will go."
Luke Kraus, another McCain campaign volunteer with the American University College Republicans, commented on the close race in Virginia.
"It's a really tight election in this county," Kraus said. "But I know overall northern Virginia is more leaning toward Obama. So I think McCain is trying to reach out over here in these swing areas."
As polling has increasingly favored Obama, McCain has stepped up rhetoric criticizing his opponent's lack of experience. His speech at Saturday's rally continued this trend.
"We face many enemies in this dangerous world and many challenges here at home; you know that," McCain told the crowd. "The next president of the United States won't have time to get used to the office. He will have to act immediately. We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight, waiting for our luck to change. We have to act immediately."
McCain also tried to distance his campaign with President Bush's policies.
"I said in the last debate, I'll say it again," McCain said. "I'm not George Bush. If Senator Obama wants to run against George Bush, he should have run four years ago. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it." The crowd boomed as McCain closed, saying, "Now let's go win this election!"
McCain finished his speech by stirring up a fighting spirit in the crowd of Virginians.
"Don't give up hope, be strong, have courage and fight," he said. "Fight for a new direction for our country, fight for what's right for America, fight to clean up the mess and corruption and infighting and selfishness in Washington, fight to get our economy out of the ditch and back into the lead, fight for the ideals and character of a great people, fight for our children's future, fight for justice and opportunity for all."
Contact reporter Michael Gaynor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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