— With polls showing a tight race in the swing state of
, both Democratic presidential candidate BarackObama and his Republican opponent John McCain continued to court
voters in final days before the Nov. 4 election.

McCain told a
audience Oct. 17 that he would add $2 billion to NASA’s budget. Obama countered by sending his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), to the county’s largest municipality Oct. 28 to make the case that Obama would be better for space.

At an outdoor campaign rally held at
, Biden sought to tie the looming loss of space shuttle jobs at nearby
to the new NASA human exploration vision put forward by President George W. Bush in 2004 with the support of McCain. That vision calls for retiring the space shuttle fleet by 2010.

“When the shuttle is retired, NASA estimates that 3,500 jobs could be lost – and that doesn’t count the impact on local businesses or the long-term cost of allowing our global leadership to atrophy,” Biden said. “The Bush administration has left our space program in a very difficult position. And John McCain, as chairman of the Commerce Committee hasn’t helped. He oversaw the plan to retire the space shuttle before a replacement was ready.”

repeated a pledge Obama made earlier in the campaign to reduce the gap between the shuttle’s proposed 2010 retirement and the introduction some four or five years later of its planned successor, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket.

said he and Obama would work with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the current chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees NASA, “to invest an additional $2 billion in NASA to reduce the gap between when the shuttle is retired and the when the next generation of spaceflight is introduced.”

“We want to reinvigorate our national space program and that includes creating an environment for a vibrant commercial space program,” Biden said.

said a reinvigorated
space program “will not only inspire the nation, it will also create jobs.”

McCain, speaking in
Oct. 29, included NASA for the first time among the short list of federal agencies he would exempt from a proposed spending freeze.

“I will freeze government spending on all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, NASA, Social Security and health care until we scrub every single government program and get rid of the ones that aren’t working for the American people,” McCain told the Miami crowd. ‘”And I will veto every single pork barrel bill Congresses passes.”

Democrats had criticized McCain in a radio spot for promising
voters a $2 billion increase for NASA but then not mentioning the space agency among the agencies and programs he would exempt from his spending freeze.

While McCain was stumping in
voters learned via a commentary in the Orlando Sentinel that former NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, had endorsed Obama.

Obama clearly understands the importance of human spaceflight and exploration,” Ride wrote. “That is why he supports increasing NASA’s budget to close the gap in American spaceflight capability.”

Polls conducted several days before Biden’s
rally and Ride’s endorsement gave Obama a slight lead over McCain in the contest for
‘s 27 electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to clinch the presidency.