BELTON -- John McCain warned voters Monday that his rival Barack Obama was a shifty, job-killing socialist who wasn't ready to take on the challenges facing the next US president.
Trailing in the polls with just two weeks left before the November 4 election, McCain kept up his attack on Obama's economic policies, while vowing to fight to take the country in a new direction.
The fate of small business owners was central to McCain's attack, as the Arizona senator capitalized on a recent encounter Obama had with an Ohio plumber, the now-famous Joe Wurzelbacher, who was worried he would not be able to realize his dream of owning his own business if Obama raised taxes.
"After months of campaign trail eloquence... we finally learned what Senator Obama's economic goal is. As he told Joe, he wants to 'spread the wealth around," McCain told a boisterous crowd gathered on a high school football field in Belton, Missouri.
"If I'm elected president, I won't raise taxes on anyone, especially small businesses. Senator Obama will and that will force them to cut jobs."
McCain surrounded himself with small business owners at a barbecue restaurant in Columbia, Missouri whom he called "the backbone of America's economy."
"They don't want their taxes increased," McCain told reporters. "They don't want checks given away to people that don't pay taxes because Senator Obama wants to take the money from somebody and give it to somebody else."
The tactic does not appear to be doing much to help rouse support for McCain, who was down 11 points in Gallup's national tracking poll Monday.
A poll by Suffolk University found that, while most voters in Ohio and Missouri have now heard of "Joe the Plumber," few said their vote was influenced by his story.
Only six percent of respondents in Ohio and eight percent of those in Missouri said they were more likely to vote for McCain out of concern that Obama would be increasing taxes on small businesses earning more than $250,000 a year.
Some four percent in Ohio and three percent in Missouri said the story made them more likely to vote for Obama, according to the survey released Monday which also found that Obama was leading by nine points in the key battleground of Ohio and McCain was ahead by one point in Missouri.
McCain's swing through the midwestern state of Missouri comes two days after Obama attracted a monstrous crowd of 100,000 people at a Saturday night rally in St. Louis.
McCain drew an unenthusiastic crowd of about 2,500 to a morning rally in St. Charles, an affluent St. Louis suburb, where he warned that Obama was bent on "redistributing wealth" and forcing families into a "huge government-run health care plan."
"Senator Obama is more interested in controlling who gets your piece of the pie than in growing the pie," McCain said.
"We'll cut business taxes to help create jobs and keep American business in America."
Just two weeks from election day, McCain's hopes rested on a hard-hitting campaign of mailings and automatic "robo-calls" to voters in swing states assailing Obama's character, past acquaintances and record on abortion.
McCain and his feisty vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin were also seeking to break through with claims that Obama is far more liberal than mainstream Americans, and is bent on pursuing "socialist" tax policies.
They also continue to slam Obama for insisting on a speedy withdrawal from Iraq and said Obama was not ready to lead the country through troubled times.
"I'll bring our troops home but I'll bring them home in honor and victory - not in defeat!" McCain told the crowd.
"The next president won't have time to get used to the office," McCain said, repeating an attack line which has less resonance in the wake of Sunday's endorsement of Obama by former Republican secretary of state Colin Powell.
"What America needs in this hour is a fighter: someone who puts all his cards on the table and trusts the judgment of the American people," the war hero and navy fighter pilot said.
"I'm not afraid of the fight. I'm ready for it."