Eve of Election Day: McCain's feisty, Obama's confident

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 3, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama, saying he felt "peaceful" as polls found him poised to win election Tuesday as the nation's next president — and to become the first African-American to win the office — battled John McCain across crucial swing states Monday as both candidates made last-ditch bids for support.

A record turnout was expected Tuesday to pick the 44th president of the United States, with Republican McCain trying to pull off what arguably would be the biggest presidential upset in 60 years.

As they dueled across Florida, Virginia and other battleground states, Obama alternated between being cocky and cautious, while McCain was feisty and eager to fight.

Obama's day turned somber in the afternoon, though, as he got word that his grandmother Madelyn Dunham had died. He'd interrupted his campaign late last month for a final visit with Dunham, who'd raised him, in Hawaii.

"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances," Obama said in a joint statement with his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

In North Carolina, Obama called Dunham "one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America who, they're not famous, their names aren't in the newspapers but each and every day they work hard, they look after their families, they sacrifice for their children and their grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing."

Obama, like McCain, spent most of Monday campaigning on familiar themes. McCain pledged to keep taxes low; Obama said he'd change Bush administration policies on the economy and the Iraq war.

"We are one day away from changing the United States of America," Obama told a crowd of about 9,100 at Jacksonville's Veterans Memorial Arena.

McCain was on the other side of the too-close-to-call state, trying to win its 27 electoral votes by starting a 20-hour seven-state sprint in Tampa.

Though his talk drew only about 1,100 people — far fewer than he'd attracted at a midnight rally in Miami — the Arizona senator was pumped up by his morning reception.

"One day left, just one day left before we take America in a new direction, my friends. We need your help, we need your help and we will win," he said.

Florida was the biggest swing-state prize. However, it was a measure of Obama's strength that states such as Indiana and Virginia, which haven't given their electoral votes to a Democrat since 1964, and North Carolina, which last went Democratic in 1976, also were getting lots of last-minute attention.

Nationally, the Illinois senator had a 7.4 percentage-point lead, according to an average of 13 surveys taken in the past week, according to RealClearPolitics.com.

Part of Obama's strength is his ability to attract larger-than-average turnouts of younger and African-American voters as he bids to become the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote. (Bill Clinton's two victories split votes among three major candidates, including independent Ross Perot.)

Curtis Gans, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, predicted that as many as 135 million people, 64.8 percent of those eligible, could cast ballots in this election. That would be the best showing since 1960's 67 percent turnout. In 2004, turnout was 60.6 percent.

Thousands already have voted early, and polls indicate that Obama has benefited most. A Diageo-Hotline poll released Monday found that 27 percent of likely voters already had cast ballots in 30 states, with Obama gaining a 51-46 percent edge among them.

McCain campaign officials said that the Arizona senator's campaign was in better shape than polls had found. His itinerary Monday had stops scheduled in Florida, Tennessee (at the Virginia border), Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada before a scheduled return to his home state around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

He won't stay home long. After voting Tuesday morning, he intends to stump in Colorado and New Mexico before heading back home to view early East Coast election results.

Crucial to his strategy is Pennsylvania, which Republicans haven't carried in a presidential election since 1988. Despite a new Quinnipiac Polling Institute survey released Monday that found Obama up by 10 points there, McCain's forces think he can win by following the blueprint of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who beat Obama in April's Democratic primary.

McCain stopped Monday in Moon Township, just west of Pittsburgh, in a last-ditch effort to woo voters in small-town, suburban and exurban areas, where McCain campaign manager Rick Davis says that Obama has underperformed.

While McCain scrambled for votes, Obama tried to stay lofty and cool, scheduling only three public events and telling radio's "Russ Parr Morning Show" that "I feel pretty peaceful."

Later in the morning, Obama participated in a conference call with African-American leaders around the country, featuring Oprah Winfrey, Sean "Diddy" Combs, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and others. Obama discussed the historic nature of the election, and the message that the world would get from seeing his daughters play on the South Lawn of the White House.

On the campaign trail, Obama began his day in Florida, promising supporters that he'd cut most Americans' taxes, change President Bush's economic policies, end the war in Iraq and usher in an era of unity.

In Jacksonville, a military city with many black voters in a heavily Republican county, a plane flying above the site for his first rally of the day towed an opposition banner: "Vote McCain — Keep your money."

Obama found fans, however. Dozens flocked outside the gym where he worked out, and one woman emerged from a crowd to hand him a red rose.

At an arena, Obama told the crowd, "Senator McCain has served this country honorably, and at the end of this long race I want to congratulate him on the tough race that he has fought."

Obama argued, however that McCain was too close to Bush's policies, and reminded the crowd of the Republican's statement at the outset of the Wall Street crisis that the fundamentals of the economy were strong.

When the crowd booed, Obama said, "You don't need to boo. You just need to vote."

Steve and Gloria Robinson, an interracial military couple in the stands, said they were confident that Obama could win. "If you can't feel the electricity he gives off, something is wrong with you," said Steve Robinson, who's African-American and whose wife is Native American. "I'm 37. This is history for me."

Robinson said: "My great-grandma was a nana in North Carolina. She raised Caucasian kids, and I had to watch that. I had to watch her struggle. My mother, she's been struggling all her life. She just got laid off" from a textile job. "It's time for a change."

(Talev reported from Jacksonville, Fla., Douglas from Tampa, Fla.)

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