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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Obama's Columbus stop draws 60,000 to Statehouse lawn

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A throng some 60,000 people strong filled the lawn in front of the Statehouse and flowed into the streets Sunday as Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama made his closing arguments to Ohio for a vote to end what he called the "nightmare" of the last eight years.

And despite the beat of the message of his closing theme, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and polls showing him in the lead, the Illinois senator was leaving nothing to chance. He pointed the way toward Veterans Memorial just across the Scioto River where Franklin County residents were voting as he spoke.

"We began this journey, not on a beautiful day like this — it was cold that day, 7 degrees — on the steps of the old capitol in Springfield, Ill.…," he said.

"We knew how steep our climb would be… I was convinced that when we come together, our voices are more powerful than the most entrenched lobbyists, the most vicious political attacks...

"That was the premise of this candidacy," he said. "Twenty-one months later, my faith in the American people has been vindicated, regardless of what happens on Tuesday. That’s how we’ve come so close."

Mr. Obama hoped to close the deal with a trio of large rallies that are likely to be his last of the campaign in the state that decided the 2004 election. From Columbus, he headed to Cleveland for a Bruce Springsteen concert and rally in Cleveland with plans to then fly south for one final rally under the stadium lights of the University of Cincinnati in the city he has visited most often.

Mr. Obama, who was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and Gov. Ted Strickland, appeared relaxed, laughing at some of his own lines on the front steps of the Statehouse.

He praised Republican nominee John McCain’s "funny" appearance on Saturday Night Live the night before just before leashing 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. "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. He said, and I quote, that he is ‘delighted’ to support John McCain. 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. We’re not going to be hoodwinked."

The McCain campaign took aim at Mr. Obama’s characterization as "simple economics" his own plan to lower taxes for those earning less than $250,000 while allowing the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than that to expire.

"Barack Obama’s plan is indeed simple," McCain-Palin spokesman Brian Rogers said. "He will raise taxes. He will grow government. With only two days until the election, Barack Obama offers nothing but the same old tired tax-and-spend policies that will only kill Ohio jobs and deepen our economic crisis."

Veterans’ Memorial was only scheduled to be open until 5 p.m. for early voting, despite attempts by Democrats to convince the bipartisan county board of elections to keep it open longer. But Governor Strickland had a plan, knowing that early voting would continue as long as people were still in line after that time.

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 voters for Barack Obama and Joe Biden… This thing could be wrapped up before the polls open on Nov. 4."

Mr. Obama may be gone after Sunday, but his campaign here goes on. Running mate Joe Biden will be back Monday for rallies in Zanesville and suburban Akron.

Republican vice president nominee Sarah Palin continued the push for Ohio’s critical 20 electoral votes with rallies Sunday and another visit planned for Lakewood near Cleveland on Monday.

Shelley Smith, 23, a Minnesota native newly registered in Ohio, took time off Thursday afternoon from her job at a health care company to stand in line for two and a half hours at Veteran’s Memorial for Mr. Obama. She was in line at 9 a.m., for Sunday’s Statehouse rally more than four hours later.

"I’m angry about the last eight years, and I actually trust him," she said. "I may get let down. He is a politician."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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