COLUMBUS, OHIO–The McCain campaign brought all the pomp it could muster to its final rally here Friday: A Hank Williams Jr. warm up act, a fake barn backdrop, several crates of fresh apples for scenery, a “Victory in Ohio” sign that stretched at least 100 feet, a grand entrance on the Straight Talk Express, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared, “I only play an action hero in my movies, but John McCain is a real action hero.”
But the people were missing. Not all the people, mind you. Many thousands did show, pumped with excitement, and pounding thundersticks in approval. But the Nationwide Arena, home to the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, was hardly full. About a third of the Arena, which fits 20,000 people, was draped off. And the upper decks of the remaining area were about half empty, as were the seats behind the faux-barn stage.
This was a notable fact for political historians, because on the Friday before Election day in 2004, Republican nominee George W. Bush sold out the entire arena, filling it with nearly 20,000 enthusiastic supporters and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Columbus Dispatch said the crowd greeted Bush “like a rock star.”
On stage, McCain exhibited no sign that he recognized the contrast. As he enters the final days of the campaign, he carries with him as much fire and enthusiasm as he has ever shown on the campaign trail. On his fourth public event of the day, he boomed from the podium. “Arnold said it best, ‘The Mac is back,’ ” McCain told the crowd, which cheered wildly, hanging on his every word. “I know a winning campaign when I see one. I know the momentum. I know the enthusiasm.”