"There's Dr. Dan! There's Jose the air-conditioning man!" said Sen. John McCain. Other notables attending McCain's "Joe the Plumber" rally at Everglades Lumber in Miami included Gus the Homebuilder, Jeb the Former Governor, Mel and Lindsey the Senators, Pete the Exterminator, Lincoln and Mario the Congressional brothers, Joe the Connecticut-for-Lieberman Party leader, Joe the Engineer, Tom the Color-Coder, and Charlie the Early Vote Extender.
In a forceful and passionate speech that whipped the crowd into an enthusiastic roar, John McCain pronounced his full intention to win Tuesday's election. "I'm an American and I choose to fight!" he proclaimed. Repeating "fight" and "stand up" in a battering conclusion to his speech, McCain gave the crowd the feeling that he would never go down without full effort.
Notably, however, McCain still failed to mention the "middle class," only saying "I know you are worried" about the economic climate. In an otherwise strong speech, it seemed the only weakness. McCain attacked Obama as "more interested in controlling (wealth) than creating it." Playing to the anti-Castro Cuban-American crowd, McCain painted Obama as a socialist and a "redistributionist" who wants to take "your money" and give it to someone else.
As for readiness to meet crises at home and abroad, McCain assured the crowd, "I've been tested, my friends, I've been tested." The biggest crowd reaction came when McCain said he would bring the troops home, "but NOT in defeat!"
As I sat in the media area wrapping up work after the rally, several different crowd members walked by and demanded that we "be objective" and "report the truth." It was apparent that just being in the media area meant an implicit assumption of unfairness. One woman was in her 80s and I had to lean in to hear her repeat her demand twice. Another man, with whom I engaged in brief conversation, insisted that I wasn't being objective and asked me to basically tell all the rest of the reporters to deliver the message. We noticed this same attitude in other rallies, notably Palin's Wilmington, Ohio rally several weeks ago. In Republican minds, the media and ACORN are stealing this election, and that's that.
When we left the rally, we saw a disturbing scene that involved two Obama supporters in distress from an angry crowd. We reported on it here.
Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and President Clinton also spent the day stumping around Florida, and we stopped at some McCain and Obama offices before driving three hours back up to Kissimmee for the midnight rally. Brett's access to the buffer zone was denied (ironically on the day we passed the New York Times' circulation figures), so the photos aren't as exciting (we did get a shot of a girl on the beach with "Miami Beach" on her butt, so there's at least that).
Bill Clinton spoke as powerfully on Barack Obama's behalf as I've seen this year, despite a curious line early on: "Even a few old white guys like me, you haven't cut my demographic out yet." Um, what?
Still, Bill Clinton is at his very best when he gives a declarative line and then launches into, "and let me tell you why." At his convention speech that many liked but I thought was mediocre, Clinton only said that Obama was ready to be president but offered no "and let me tell you why" behind it, which is his trademark. In Kissimmee, Clinton met that standard and more, arguing point by point why Barack Obama would be the better president.
According to Clinton, Obama had better (1) governing philosophy; (2) policies; (3) ability to make decisions; and (4) ability to execute those decisions. He laughed at the "redistributionist" argument John McCain had continued promulgating earlier in the day. Referring to the Republican-controlled government of the recent past, "they just presided over the biggest distribution of wealth upward since the 1920s, and we all know what happened (then)."
Referring to his own record, "We made more millionaires and billionaires" than the Republicans did, it's just that it doesn't get noticed because the middle class also saw its incomes rise.
Clinton highlighted Obama's superior economic, education, health care and energy plans. "Just look at his plans!" Clinton challenged.
In all, it was a passionate, full-throated argument for Barack Obama that many Democrats wished had come earlier in the campaign, but one that in the closing days will certainly resonate with any of the last few Clinton Democrats uncertain about getting on board with the Democratic nominee.
Some, of course, will never come aboard, and one of these incidents presented a personal highlight for me. At the McCain event in Miami, a woman approached Brett and me inside the media area to ask what media outlet we were with, and subsequently to pitch her argument. She said she was a "blogger with No Quarter" and I thought, oh, this is going to be good.
Sure enough, she proceeded to argue that there were many former Clinton supporters now supporting John McCain because they were outraged at Obama's lack of experience, a claim that is absurd on its face. (Nobody ever gets outraged about someone's "lack of experience." It doesn't drive anger. Bad policies might drive anger. Not inexperience.)
Brett had to leave because he couldn't take the barrage of ridiculousness, and half an hour later bailed me out with the fake "phone call" move. For my part, I listened to her patiently. When she finally paused, I looked her dead in the eye and calmly told her that her site was "rancid." Everything about what Larry Johnson was doing was scummy, I told her squarely, his site was a grotesque disgrace. I'm not sure that was the reaction she expected, but I even got her complimenting me on my honesty and forthrightness and reasonable tone with which I explained how horrifyingly unacceptable the racist bile on Larry Johnson's site truly was.
But then it just went on waaay too long. Eventually she thought she had me trapped. "I hear you talk about racism, but nothing about sexism." I replied that it is unacceptable to make racism and sexism into a race to see which one is worse, when they're both awful things. She asked me to think long and hard about whether I was a sexist, because I was in the media, and so was the sexist Chris Matthews and the sexist Andrea Mitchell, who had commented on Sarah Palin's clothes in a sexist way. Yeah, you heard me. For half an hour. Til Brett did the phone call thing.
Later, catching up with the great Al Giordano over a pint of Guinness in Tampa, he recounted having a similar conversation with this same woman (by description) who trapped him next to a broken elevator in Denver during the convention. "Oh man, that woman was crazy!" he recalled.
We visited McCain offices and Obama offices in Miami and the region, and we noticed that McCain's effort is clearly ramping up as the election gets closer. At around 3pm in one of McCain's Victory offices in Miami-Dade, the phone bank was half full with a promise of a bigger effort that night, which we believed. There was a clear sense of activity, even if the Obama side is still much bigger.
Obama's central offices during this early voting GOTV period have mostly emptied into staging areas. "Every Day is Election Day" is the mantra. The big news was Charlie Crist's expansion of the voting hours. Theories we heard ranged from the cynical ("he knows Obama's going to win and wants to position himself as a hero," "he's angry with McCain for passing him over,") to the optimistic ("he sincerely believes in voting rights") to the practical ("there would have been a massive backlash if he hadn't made this move, and if courts reverse it he can legitimately say he tried.")
Whatever the cause, Crist got a very tepid response in front of the Republican audience at his speech on behalf of McCain (he'd made the announcement the day before), and is uniformly praised among Florida Democrats in the past few days.
Obama's staging locations are spread out, having blossomed all over the state in the closing days. We didn't talk to any Obama volunteers in our breakneck day that involved an impromptu report on the fracas in Miami, so we hope you'll excuse their absence in this report.
It's on to Tampa (where we spoke with Voter Protection Obama volunteers and saw a busy McCain office on Thursday night), then Daytona Beach today and the Panhandle tomorrow. 11,781 miles.