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MOON TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania - While Republican John McCain revels in the role of the underdog and castigates pundits for writing him off in the race to the White House, his campaign is working frantically for a final comeback.
With less than two weeks left before the November 4 election, polls show a tough road to victory for the Vietnam war veteran on an electoral map awash in Democratic blue.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's lead among likely voters reached 14 points in a poll published by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday while surveys show the Illinois senator ahead in most battleground states.
Experts say the key to a McCain comeback lies in winning over independents and white, working class voters who are conservative on issues like national security and supported Obama's former foe Hillary Clinton in the primaries.
McCain campaign insiders insist that the public polls do not paint an accurate picture of the race, and that states like working-class Pennsylvania, where Obama is leading by eight to 10 points in recent surveys, are still winnable.
The campaign has attracted large numbers of volunteers who are placing thousands of phone calls every day to their fellow Democrats, McCain's political director Mike DuHaime said, adding that a sophisticated tracking and call-back system will help improve turnout and sway fence-sitters.
"Senator Obama has yet to close the deal with voters," DuHaime said.
"He's a great campaigner and a great speaker but is he ready right now to be president? There are lingering doubts."
But analysts are not convinced McCain can turn the tide in Pennsylvania, which has not picked a Republican president since George Bush in 1988.
"I think it's out of McCain's reach," said Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia.
"I don't believe a single blue state will defect."
It is hard to imagine a scenario in which McCain could close the gap and defeat Obama in Pennsylvania, said Dan Keyserling of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"That is a state that both candidates have been exploring from very early on because they know how important it will be.
"I don't think there's a lot to settle out there."
But senior McCain adviser Nicole Wallace said there was still plenty of time left to sway voters by "making clear that the choice between Barack Obama and John McCain has a very significant impact on our nations' economic health.
"It's an uphill battle to spread the message. We're vastly outspent," she said. - Sapa-AFP