With less than 50 days to go until Election Day on November 4, the U.S. presidential race between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama appears to be a dead heat.  Analysts say the final weeks of the campaign promise to be intense and filled with partisan attacks and negative television advertisements.  We have a preview from VOA's National Correspondent, Jim Malone.

The attack ads are everywhere - on television, radio and the Internet.  Some of ads are created within only a few hours.

A McCain campaign ad attacked Senator Barack Obama on the issue of taxes.

"Painful taxes.  Hard choices for your budget.  Not ready to lead.  That's the real Obama."

The Obama campaign responded with an attack on Senator McCain and his ties to lobbyists.

"The lobbyists running his low road campaign.  The money - billions in tax breaks for oil and drug companies, but almost nothing for families like yours."
But with both sides firing off negative ads at each other, experts say it is hard to know whether people are paying attention or to gauge the impact.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the latest bipartisan Battleground poll, which she helped conduct, found that both Obama and McCain remain popular with the public.
"Both candidates remain remarkably personally positive," she said.  "And again, you would think given a lot of the press reports that both candidates had decidedly negative views [would be viewed negatively by voters], but that is not true."

Both campaigns complain that their opponent's attack ads are often inaccurate and misleading.  

One group of liberal activists is urging the moderators of the upcoming presidential debates to focus on serious issues and steer clear of what they regard as trivial political attacks.

Robert Borosage is president of the Institute for America's Future, which promotes a progressive political agenda.

"And the basic theme of all of this work is to demand a debate worthy of a great nation in trouble," Borosage said.  "As all of you know, the presidential campaign at this point seems to be descending right now somewhere along a road to nowhere.  We are talking about [celebrity] Paris Hilton and lipstick on pigs and Alaska separatism."

But experts predict the political attacks and negative ads will only increase in the final weeks of the campaign because the race has become more competitive since the party conventions.

Obama led the polls for months.  But in the last few weeks, McCain has come on strong and now leads in several surveys.

McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate has energized social conservatives within the Republican Party.

And McCain now casts himself as a reformer bent on changing politics in Washington.

"And I want to warn them, every single one of them, stand by because change is coming, and real change is coming to Washington, D.C.  And we are going to shake things up," McCain said.

Democrats complain the attacks on Obama have distracted voters from the real issues in the campaign, especially the economy.

They are urging Obama to fight back, mindful of the Republican attack ads that helped doom Democrat John Kerry's presidential bid four years ago.

In recent days, Obama seems to be taking their advice.

"Enough!  I don't care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and 'Swift boat' politics.  Enough is enough!," Obama said.

Political analysts say this year's presidential debates will be crucial in helping voters decide what is shaping up as a very close race.

Tom DeFrank is Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Daily News and has covered numerous U.S. elections.  DeFrank told VOA's Issues in the News program that the debates will be especially important for Barack Obama.

"I think he is now the underdog," DeFrank said.  "And I have always thought that the first presidential debate is always important in presidential elections.  But I think Obama needs to be really compelling in that debate now.  The stakes are much higher for him now than for McCain."

Three presidential debates are scheduled, beginning September 26 at the University of Mississippi.  In addition, there will be one vice presidential debate between Republican Sarah Palin and Democratic Senator Joe Biden.