DENVER — John McCain tried mightily Friday to reinvigorate his campaign in Colorado, a state he needs to win, barnstorming with football legend John Elway and bashing Barack Obama as a dangerous share-the-wealth advocate and an untested potential commander in chief.
The Republican presidential nominee had the campaign stage to himself Friday, as Obama visited his ailing grandmother in Hawaii.
At Denver's National Western Arena, McCain found a raucous audience of about 1,200 people, and occasionally loud protesters.
Supporters let out lusty boos when the Arizona senator told them that Obama, the Democratic nominee, "wants to spread the wealth around."
Never miss a local story.
They gave one of their biggest cheers when McCain said, "Senator Obama may say he's trying to soak the rich, but it's the middle class who are going to get put through the wringer, because a lot of his promised tax increase misses the target."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said he welcomed McCain's emphasis on tax policy.
"This is not a new argument. We have been dealing with tax attacks for months," Plouffe said in a conference call. "People believe Senator Obama will cut taxes for people like them. We're happy to continue this debate."
Plouffe maintained that McCain's presence in a state such as Colorado illustrates how the Obama campaign "is in strong shape." McCain's lieutenants countered that voters are still making up their minds.
Tearing into Obama — who leads in Colorado by an average of 5.4 percentage points, according to poll data compiled by RealClearPolitics, an independent political Web site — has become a key McCain strategy in the closing days of the campaign.
Colorado is crucial to McCain, because it's been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections. President Bush beat Democrat John Kerry here by 4.6 percentage points four years ago, and he walloped Democrat Al Gore by 8 points in 2000. In 1996, Republican nominee Bob Dole beat Bill Clinton here.
The state's demographics are changing, however, as its suburbs boom with people moving in from all over the country. Memories are still fresh of the late August night when 80,000 people crammed into Denver's pro football stadium to hear Obama give his convention acceptance speech.
McCain, who was interrupted loudly twice Friday by a handful of protesters who were advocating better programs for people with disabilities, charged that the Illinois senator "believes in redistributing wealth."
Key Bush administration tax cuts are due to expire on Jan. 1, 2011. Obama would reimpose higher rates on individuals who earn more than $200,000 annually and families that earn more than $250,000. McCain would continue the tax cuts.
Obama was off the campaign trail Friday, visiting Madelyn Dunham, who raised him through much of his childhood.
He had a subdued arrival in Hawaii, with no waving and no welcoming party. Tieless after a nine-hour flight, he went to Dunham's apartment building for a private visit.
Michelle Obama stumped for her husband in Columbus, Ohio, and spoke lovingly of Dunham, whom he called "Toot."
"He said the other night — he said, 'You know, I got my toughness from Toot,' " she said. "Because she taught him with her quiet confidence and that love and support that he could do anything; just deep love and admiration."
Barack Obama, who plans to resume campaigning Saturday in Nevada, picked up the endorsement of another prominent Republican, as former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld announced his support.
Weld joins other Republicans who've backed Obama recently, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Bush White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson.
McCain pulled out all the stops Friday. He was introduced by former Denver Broncos defensive star John Lynch and then Elway, who quarterbacked the Broncos to two Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.
"Senator, it's the fourth quarter, and some pundits on TV are already counting you out," Elway said. "But I know a thing or two about comebacks, and I cannot wait for Nov. 4, when you once again prove those pundits wrong."
McCain eagerly picked up the ball.
Obama, he said, believes "not in policies that grow our economy and create jobs. Senator Obama is more interested in controlling wealth than in creating it, in redistributing money instead of spreading opportunity. I am going to create wealth for all Americans, by creating opportunity for all Americans."
He sharply contrasted his experience with that of Obama on national security.
"We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad. We have to act. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it," McCain said.
"I've been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and I have the scars to prove it. If I'm elected president, I will fight to shake up Washington and take America in a new direction from my first day in office until my last. I'm not afraid of the fight, and I'm ready for it."
The crowd was ready to spread the word.
"Obama scares me," said Bob Littlepage, an unemployed bus driver from Arvada, a Denver suburb. "The man's a flat-out socialist."
"I don't trust Obama," added Joe Wilkerson, an Arvada retiree. "Look at the people he associates with."
People in the crowd didn't mind the Obama-bashing; in fact, they thought it gave them fresh ammunition to use as they went back to their communities.
"You have to put the facts out there," said Donna Vandeveld, the owner of a Denver promotion and marketing firm. "And you can contrast Obama with McCain's record and his experience."
(Margaret Talev contributed to this article from Washington.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY