Less than a week prior to the presidential election, polls suggest that Illinois Senator Barack Obama is ahead of his rival John McCain with key battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia still in play.

Nevertheless, supporters of the Republican ticket are “cautiously optimistic” in hopes that Sen. McCain will still prevail.

“I still think he can pull this off,” said Vashti Varnado, a nurse and member of the Oak Park GOP. “I do think he needs to be more clear about the ways that his economic plan would actually encourage suceess, while Sen. Obama just wants to ‘spread the wealth.'” Varnado believes the media has unfairly characterized McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and not looked at her actual successes as an elected official.

“I’ve heard more about the ‘Troopergate’ scandal in the media than the credentials Palin brings to the ticket,” said Varnado. “Obama has been in the Senate for less than three years and most of that time he’s been working on his presidential candidacy. The media should spend more time addressing Palin’s accomplishments as well as Obama’s lack of challenging his party on policy issues or his lack of military experience.”

Les Golden, a Republican activist with the Oak Park GOP, adds that McCain’s tax relief plan would aid both small businesses and help the middle class recover from the much discussed financial crisis.

“The fact of the matter is that Sen. McCain has a record of leadership and experience in challenging both his party and reaching across the aisle to Democrats. Meanwhile, Sen. Obama has an abysmal record, requesting over $1 billion in federal earmarks and no real accomplishments in his brief stint on the U.S. Senate.”

On Sept. 20, the Oak Park GOP held a banquet and fundraiser in support of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees at Papaspiros Greek Taverna, 733 Lake St. “It was a spirited event, and it was well attended,” said Golden who estimated that nearly sixty people turned out. “We wanted to assure that we came out and showed our support for the best candidate.”

The biggest difference between Obama and McCain, said Golden, is the issue of earmark and pork barrel spending which McCain has promised to greatly curtail if he is elected. But Golden admits the focus on earmarks is diminished by the current economic state of the country and that Obama has benefited by displaying a commanding presence and solid oratorical skills on the campaign trail which “some have responded to.”

Recently, Obama’s running mate, Senator Joe Biden made news for his comment, supposedly off the record, that Obama would be challenged by an “international threat within six months.”

“That gives me a reason to be concerned,” said Varnado who acknowledged the comment was meant as a compliment to Obama but still felt, “It seemed to reflect a level of apprehensiveness that even Biden had about the upstart politician.”

Much attention has also been paid to the negative campaigning on both sides recently, which Golden feels has not served McCain well. “It’s not really his style,” he said. “He feels much more comfortable expressing his views on policy issues than talking about Obama’s associations with William Ayers. However, those associations are relevant because they speak to Obama’s decision-making, which I don’t think is very sound.”

In spite of being significantly outspent, McCain has a record of finishing campaigns strongly, and Varnado believes he still has a chance to close the gap.

“He just needs to be himself, remind the American people of his years as a public servant and his economic policy, which is fiscally sound,” said Varnado. “If he does those things, he can win.”

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