WASHINGTON — Their nearly 2-year-old campaigns are down to the final two weeks, and the time has come for John McCain and Barack Obama to harvest a White House victory or watch a dream wither away.
The outcome will spring from strategies planted months or years ago and also from the candidates' responses to the campaign's frantic final storms, including a once-in-a-generation economic crisis.
McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, heads toward Election Day trailing in national polls and needing an even bigger late-October comeback than Ronald Reagan in 1980. His campaign has retreated to a handful of states President Bush carried in 2004, which McCain must sweep to win narrowly in the Electoral College.
Obama, a freshman Democratic senator from Illinois, is using a fundraising advantage to overwhelm his rival with TV ads in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and several other "must-win" states for McCain.
Obama's party appears poised for major gains in the House and Senate. Still, the numbers suggest McCain's window has not closed completely. About a fifth of voters remain undecided or willing to switch allegiances, the latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll suggests.
Frank Newport, managing editor of the Gallup Poll, said McCain is trailing Obama by anywhere from 2 to 7 percentage points, depending upon turnout assumptions. More traditional models benefit McCain. Obama does better assuming hordes of new voters will turn out.
The campaigns say they'll focus their closing arguments on the economy, which voters tell pollsters they worry about more than all other issues combined.