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MCCAIN TURNS FOCUS ON OHIO

The Republican takes along the latest star of the campaign: Joe the Plumber.

MENTOR, Ohio - In case anyone was wondering if Ohio was a combat zone for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, consider that five days before the election the candidate took a 220-mile, six-stop, 12-hour bus tour across the northern breadth of the state.

Along the way, he deployed his unofficial running mate, a disappearing and reappearing Joe the Plumber, to try to drive his points home.

"I know history," McCain shouted out at a cold rally on Thursday morning in Defiance, Ohio. "I know the last time anyone was elected president of the United States without carrying the state of Ohio was John F. Kennedy. My friends, we're going to carry Ohio and we're going to win the presidency, and we need you out there working every single moment over the next five days."

By the end of the day, McCain was on a roll. "I've been in a lot of campaigns, and I can feel momentum, and I can feel momentum in this room tonight!" McCain hollered at a rally in the gym at Mentor High School, shortly before the crowd began a deafening chant of "Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber!"

For all of McCain's Ohio hopes, the latest polls show that Sen. Barack Obama has an edge in this perennial battleground, keeping the Republican ticket on an expensive offensive.

Still, McCain's advisers say their own polling shows the race much closer and they predict McCain will eke out a narrow triumph here. "We think we can win over a swath of conservative Democrats as well as independents and obviously Republicans," said the campaign's political director, Mike DuHaime. Without Ohio, McCain will most likely lose the election.

To help, McCain enlisted Joe the Plumber, otherwise known as Samuel J. Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, the McCain campaign's embodiment of a small-business American everyman. But despite Wurzelbacher's newfound celebrity, he had something of a wobbly start on Thursday in these last seat-of-the-pants days of the McCain campaign.

"Joe's with us today!" McCain called out at the rally at Defiance Junior High School. "Joe, where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?"

Nothing.

"Joe, I thought you were here today," McCain continued, with dimmed enthusiasm.

Still nothing.

"All right," McCain said, realizing that Joe was nowhere to be found. "Well, you're all Joe the Plumbers!"

It turned out that Wurzelbacher, as he told CNN, had never received final confirmation from the McCain campaign that he was expected. The campaign dispatched a car and rushed the plumber to McCain's next event, in Sandusky, where Wurzelbacher spoke.

"All right, guys, I didn't prepare anything," Wurzelbacher said at a rally at the Washington Park gazebo in Sandusky. "The only thing I've been saying is just get out and get informed. I mean, really know what you're talking about when you're talking about it. Don't take everyone's opinions. I came to my own opinions by research. Get involved in the government. That way we can hold our politicians accountable and take back our government. It's all ours."

McCain will spend another full day in Ohio today.

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