PDT Staff Writer
The third and final debate between presidential candidates, senators Barack Obama, D-Ill, and John McCain, R-Ariz., happened Wednesday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. -- 600 miles away from Portsmouth, where both local political parties hosted debate watch parties at their headquarters.
"I think the race is getting very interesting as we come down to the last moments, literally, and it will be fascinating to see how this goes tonight," said Dr. Terry Johnson, chairman of the Scioto County Republican Party, hours before the debate began.
Not far from the Republican headquarters on Chillicothe Street, Democrats had their own watch party inside their local headquarters also.
"Tonight, I look for Barack to hold his own. If McCain comes out with some of these stories, I believe Barack will be quick enough on his feet to head it off and ask, 'Why are you so concerned about what happened when I was 4-years old, versus the people suffering now in the economy?'" said Randy Basham, chairman of the Scioto County Democratic Party , referencing the McCain campaign's charges that Obama is affiliated with William Ayers.
Ayers once was a member of the Weather Underground, an anti-war organization, reportedly responsible for bombing public buildings in the 1960s and 70s. Years later, Ayers held a seat on a public anti-poverty group in Chicago, Ill., alongside Barack Obama. Some believe Ayers played a large role in helping Obama launch his political career in 1995. Today, Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois, in Chicago.
"Obama's definitely on the defensive anytime anything like that is brought up. William Ayers is a big one. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the recent comments by Jesse Jackson; a whole lot of people aren't helping Obama's cause," Johnson said.
Despite controversies McCain tosses at Obama, and now with less than three weeks until the national election, Obama has reportedly built a 9-point national lead. The burden now is on McCain to try to reverse his slide.
A Yahoo! News poll on Wednesday showed Obama leading in 24 states, including those rich in electoral votes, such as California (55 electoral votes), New York (31), Florida (27) and Ohio (20). McCain, meanwhile, was shown holding a steady grip on 19 states, playing strongly among southern states such as Texas (34 electoral votes), Georgia (15), Tennessee (11). Seven states remained undecided.
In order for either candidate to win, they need 270 electoral votes on Nov. 4. The same Yahoo! News poll projected Obama currently leading with 344 electoral votes; more than double McCain's 164.
Basham said he still isn't going to take his party's lead for granted, saying, "It's still too early to take that by heart, but a lot of people now are starting to make a move, and they're slowly making a move for Barack Obama."
On the Republican side of things, Johnson said he hasn't seen too much difference in Republican interest since Obama visited Portsmouth.
"We haven't noticed any difference at all. Maybe they see something we don't, but objectively we're still seeing a lot of Democrats coming in saying they're in favor of McCain. I took a motorcycle ride today, and I was out in the county and I see an awful lot of yards that have signs in their yards ... Democrat signs with McCain signs," Johnson said.
In fact, a recent Associated Press-GfK Poll showed independents about evenly divided between the two candidates, which is problematic for McCain because registered Democrats decisively outnumber registered Republicans this year.
Basham said Obama's visit to Portsmouth last week helped break the ice for voters in Scioto County, and whatever the outcome, he said he urges people to vote on Nov. 4.
"I'd like to see everybody in the county get out and vote. Hopefully for 'Ba-Rock' the vote," Basham said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235. The Associated Press Contributed to this article.