John McCain on Sunday warned Americans against the increasingly likely prospect of a Democratic takeover of Washington’s two main branches of government next week, but insisted that opinion polls indicating a strong victory for Barack Obama were misleading.

Mr McCain – who is trailing his rival by an average of seven to eight percentage points with eight days to go – would pull off the biggest electoral upset since 1948, when Harry S Truman beat Thomas Dewey, were he to win next week.

The Republican nominee, whose campaign has been increasingly beset by finger-pointing, internal leaks and reported rifts with Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential running mate, on Sunday said he trusted his senses, which told him the opinion polls were wrong.

“Those polls have consistently shown me much farther behind than we actually are,” Mr McCain said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press. “We’re doing fine. We have closed [the gap] in the last week. We continue to close this next week. You’re going to be up very, very late on election night.”

However, Mr Obama’s average lead in the national polls has appeared steady in recent days, in spite of individual surveys giving him an advantage of as much as 13 points nationally or as little as three.

But in an analysis of the state of the race on Fox News, Karl Rove, the architect of President George W. Bush’s election victories, said Mr Obama now had his biggest lead of the campaign, and was ahead in states with 317 electoral votes, compared with 157 votes for Mr McCain and 270 needed to win the presidency.

According to Mr Rove, Mr Obama was set to capture Ohio, Indiana, Colorado and Virginia. “In order for McCain to win, he’s got a very steep hill to climb,” he said indicating it would be extremely difficult for the Republican to turn round a national deficit of more than six points.

Commenting on reports of tensions between Mr McCain’s advisers and Sarah Palin, Mr Rove added: “This is… not the kind of thing you like to have happening in your campaign. And it’s generally a sign that people are throwing in the towel and thinking that they’re going to lose.”

Mr McCain on Sunday again distanced himself from Mr Bush. Last week Mr McCain attacked the president in his strongest terms so far, citing the doubling of US national debt to $10,000bn since 2001 and the mismanagement of the war in Iraq.

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