Candidates head toward voters' verdict
Posted November 3, 2008 5:39 a.m. EST
Updated October 18, 2011 9:37 a.m. EDT
Charlotte, N.C. — Aiming for a last-minute upset, Republican John McCain embarked on a grueling odyssey through seven swing states Monday, while Democrat Barack Obama spoke in Charlotte and two other longtime GOP bastions that have become Democratic-leaning battlegrounds in the historic presidential contest.
Obama planned a quick campaign stop in Indiana on Election Day before a massive outdoor rally in front of the skyline in his adopted hometown of Chicago.
McCain planned events in Colorado and New Mexico, then a party at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.
"My friends, it's official: There's just one day left until we take America in a new direction," McCain said at a raucous, heavily Hispanic rally in Miami just after midnight.
The candidates' disparate schedules on the last day of the long presidential contest reflected the overall state of the race going into its final hours. (Find your polling place.)
Obama, cruising comfortably ahead in national and many battleground state polls, started his day with a late morning rally in Jacksonville, Fla., before heading to Charlotte and Virginia. Campaign officials said that 25,000 people stood in the rain to listen to the candidate speak in Charlotte.
But Obama also had to deal with the news that his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died Monday after a long battle with cancer. Dunham, 85, helped raise Obama and his sister.
“She’s gone home and she died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side. There’s great joy as well as tears,” Obama said in Charlotte. He described Dunham as one of many "quiet heroes" across the country.
Before speaking in Charlotte, Obama made a surprise stop to greet volunteers and make phone calls from one of his local field offices.
Obama made several phone calls, urging supporters to go to the polls on Election Day.
"I would love to have your support," the Illinois senator told one person on the phone. "I need you to get out tomorrow. It's going to be really close."
McCain, meanwhile, was vying to hang onto those and other states that voted for President Bush in 2004, a strategy that McCain hopes will give him a slim but effective path to victory Tuesday night.
The Arizona senator planned a demanding schedule across time zones, beginning early in Tampa and going on to Tennessee, whose media market reaches into Virginia. He was also scheduled to hit Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada before ending early Tuesday with a rally in Prescott, Ariz. – he has always ended his senatorial campaigns on the courthouse steps there – and then returning home to Phoenix.
Republican volunteers were busy in North Carolina Monday, even though their candidate did not plan any last-minute appearances. Volunteers manned phone booths and held get-out-the vote rallies, and party officials said a quiet confidence pervaded campaign offices.
"The mood is very, very positive. ... Not only in North Carolina but nationally, we've been making voter contact at a record rate," Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee said.
"Our ground game is as good as it's ever been. If we turn out our voters, it's going to be close nationally; we'll win North Carolina."
About 60 satellite trucks are parked at the Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, where McCain is expected to watch election results Tuesday night deliver what he hopes will be his victory speech. The resort holds special significance for McCain – he and his wife had their wedding reception there, and he watched Super Tuesday results there.
Polls show the six closest states are Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio. The campaigns also are running aggressive ground games elsewhere, including Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia.
Even McCain's home state of Arizona is considered in play in some polls.
"The joke around here is that he's more like the senator from New Hampshire than he is the senator from Arizona. He's been running for president for so long that he's hasn't been representing Arizonans," said Emily DeRose, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party.
Breaking with tradition, both candidates planned to campaign on Election Day. McCain scheduled campaign stops in Colorado and New Mexico while Obama was set to make a quick trip to Indiana before returning to Chicago to vote with his wife and attend a rally in Grant Park, where at least 70,000 people were expected to attend – officials said another 1 million people could line nearby downtown streets.
Although several tents, stages and floodlights have been set up for the event, Obama continued to urge supporters and volunteers Monday to get voters to the polls. During a speech in Jacksonville, he told them to work like the "future depends on it."
A Cary resident, Sara Reese, has been invited to sit in the front row at Obama's Chicago rally and will spend time backstage. Reese said she donated to Obama's campaign – the first political donation she ever made – because she supports his economic and foreign-policy agenda.
Obama exuded confidence Sunday at events in three cities in the bellwether state of Ohio, which voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004 but is trending Democratic this year as it struggles against an anemic economy.
"We cannot afford to slow down or sit back or let up," Obama told voters at an evening rally in Cincinnati. "We need to win an election on Tuesday."
An e-mail to Obama's Ohio supporters signed by former Vice President Al Gore reminded them that the state was decided by an average of nine voters per precinct in 2004. Gore asked for volunteers in the final two days to keep Obama from losing the state.
McCain was fighting to hold onto Florida's 27 electoral votes while making a play for Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, two states that voted for Democrat John Kerry last time but which McCain's advisers believe could swing to the GOP this year. Polls, however, show Obama comfortably ahead in both places.
In New Hampshire, McCain held his last town hall meeting of the 2008 campaign – something of an exercise in nostalgia, as he conducted dozens of such freewheeling affairs in the months leading up to his victory in that state's primary.
McCain took voter questions on issues like illegal immigration and paying for college while thanking New Hampshire for rescuing his campaign in 2008 and in the 2000 Republican primary, when he briefly upended George W. Bush.
"I come to the people of New Hampshire to ask them to let me go on one more mission," McCain said in Peterborough, where he was introduced by Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
Another former athlete, conservative commentator J.D. Hayworth, said he expects McCain to stage a late rally to capture the election. Hayworth was a quarterback at North Carolina State University before representing Arizona in Congress.
"I think John McCain's experience will trump Barack Obama's charisma," Hayworth said. "Despite all the talk from the alphabet networks about Obama's second term and who he's going to put in the cabinet, if this were sewed up, Obama would be home in Chicago."
In Pennsylvania, the Republican National Committee placed automatic telephone calls, or robocalls, using quotes from Obama's Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton where she criticized Obama during last year's primary season. The New York senator repudiated the calls in a statement.
The Pennsylvania Republican Party was running ads reminding voters of Obama's relationship with his incendiary former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama severed ties with Wright after videotapes surfaced showing the pastor making anti-American statements from the pulpit of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where Obama worshiped for 20 years.
McCain has refused to make Wright a campaign issue but the Pennsylvania GOP said it spoke to Obama's character and judgment.
"Do we want the next President of the United States to have spent years listening to hateful rhetoric without having the good judgment to walk out?" the committee said in a statement on its Web site.