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CINCINNATI Barack Obama set out to leave the state that decided the 2004 election with a show of force, rallying before a combined crowd of about 167,000 people in Ohio s three largest cities.
You know, we began this journey in the depths of winter nearly two years ago on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill , he said last night before a crowd of 27,000 under stadium lights at the University of Cincinnati.
We knew how steep the climb would be, he said. ... I believed that when we come together, our voices are more powerful than the most entrenched lobbyists, or the most vicious political attacks, or the full force of a status quo in Washington that wants to keep things just the way they are.
And so we started this campaign based on my faith in the American people, and 21 months later that faith has been vindicated. That s how we ve come so close.
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, in Columbus and Cleveland, Mr. Obama appeared more relaxed than he has at more recent rallies, laughing at some of his own lines.
He started in sunshine as 60,000 people flooded the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse and overflowed into the streets of Columbus.
With rocker Bruce The Boss Springsteen as an opening act a few hours later, an overflow crowd of 80,000 defied frigid night air and light rain off Lake Erie in a downtown Cleveland park.
A freezing rain fell on Mr. Obama s head as he declared, The time for change has come. We ve got a righteous wind at our backs.
Then he brought the Ohio leg of his historic campaign to a close with the late-night rally in Cincinnati, the city he has visited most often since declaring his candidacy.
Ohio s ultimate role in this election, however, won t be learned until after the polls close Tuesday night.
At one moment, Mr. Obama was praising Republican nominee John McCain s military service and funny appearance on Saturday Night Live.
A moment later, he was tying the Arizona senator to the economic and foreign affairs policies of the Bush administration.
President Bush is sitting out the last few days before the election, he said in Columbus. But yesterday Dick Cheney came out of his undisclosed location.
Don t need to boo. You just need to vote, he said in response to the crowd s reaction.
Dick Cheney came out, and he hit the campaign trail, and he said, and I quote, that he is delighted to support John McCain, Mr. Obama said.
You ve never seen Dick Cheney delighted before, but he is. That s kind of hard to picture. So, I would like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endorsement, because he really earned it.
Here s my question to you, Ohio, he said. Do you think Dick Cheney is delighted to support John McCain because he thinks John McCain is going to bring change, because he thinks that somehow John McCain is really going to shake things up, get rid of the lobbyists, and Haliburton, and the old boys club in Washington? Ohio, we know better.
At all three rallies, Senator Obama pushed his proposal to lower taxes for 95 percent of Americans while allowing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year to expire.
He noted that most small businesses would qualify for a tax cut, refuting Mr. McCain s characterization of his proposals.
Ninety-nine, point-nine percent of all plumbers don t make a quarter of a million dollars, he said in Cleveland, an obvious reference to Samuel Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher.
The Springfield Township man became a national celebrity when he personally challenged Mr. Obama on his tax policies when the candidate was in the Toledo area last month preparing for his final presidential debate.
He urged the crowd to disregard Mr. McCain s characterizations of his proposals as a tax hike.
Don t be hoodwinked. Don t be bamboozled. Don t fall for the okey-doke, he said, obviously enjoying the climax of his campaign.
The Republican National Committee criticized Mr. Obama s comments at the rallies about getting beyond old disputes between Democrats and Republicans.
The debate about the size of the government is not an old debate as Obama said tonight, RNC spokesman Alex Conant.
It s a central issue in this election, and voters have a clear choice. If you want a bigger government that taxes and spends more, vote for Obama. If you want more limited government, with lower taxes and a spending freeze, vote for McCain.
Mr. Springsteen performed some of his most popular songs before Mr. Obama s Cleveland speech and recalled that he played a similar rally in 2004 for Democrat John Kerry. Ohio went on to hand the election to Mr. Bush.
They might think I might jinx it, he told the audience. This time we ll win it.
Strumming his guitar lightly, Mr. Springsteen accused the Bush administration of leaving the house of the American dream abused, looted, and left in a state of disrepair. I want my country back. I want my dream back. I want my America back.
Mr. Obama may be gone after Sunday, but his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, will be back today for rallies in Zanesville and suburban Akron.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin continued the push for Ohio s critical 20 electoral votes with a series of rallies and another planned for Lakewood near Cleveland Monday.
After the Columbus rally, a stream of people could be seen crossing the bridge from downtown to the Veterans Memorial where Franklin County residents have already been voting for a month.
Despite attempts by Democrats to convince the bipartisan county board of elections to keep it open later, Gov. Ted Strickland had a plan, knowing that early voting would continue as long as people were still in line after 5 p.m.
He shouted to the crowd that he wanted enough to make the trip so that at midnight tonight and at 2 a.m. tomorrow morning people will still be in line registering their votes for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. This thing could be wrapped up before the polls open on Nov. 4.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.