Perkasie, Pa. — The brisk pace of campaigning in as many as four states a day takes a toll on the hardiest candidates, and John McCain was showing a little of that wear at his first event Saturday in Virginia, where he did his best to suppress a worsening cough.
But by the time he reached his third stop at an airplane hangar in southeastern Pennsylvania, he'd fought through it and was relishing the role of the underdog.
Polls suggest daunting hurdles for McCain, and his crowds -- even the Saturday before election day -- are often spare compared with those at Barack Obama's rallies. But one never would have known it from his sunny tone. Greeted by a boisterous crowd of several thousand to the tune of U2's "Beautiful Day," McCain declared victory was in reach in Pennsylvania, which polls suggest has tilted to the Democratic column.
"When I see this momentum, when I see this great support, I know we're going to win. I know we're going to win," he shouted defiantly as he stood on a stage with his wife, Cindy, his daughter Meghan and his best friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
His audience, many dressed in red shirts and wielding red thunder sticks, chanted "John McCain, John McCain" and appeared to have been eagerly waiting for the chance to show their disapproval of his Democratic rival.
McCain quickly gave it to them. Reading from a teleprompter, McCain stayed on script, as he had all week, launching his double-barreled attack on Obama's readiness to handle an international crisis and his plan to roll back President Bush's tax cuts for the top earners.
"Take the money from one group of Americans and give it to the other one . . . that's what earned him the title of the most liberal member" of the U.S. Senate, McCain said.
McCain seized on the confusion created by Obama's running mate, Joe Biden -- described by McCain as "the gift that keeps on giving" -- and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Each recently misstated who would benefit from Obama's tax cuts.
"He's made a lot of promises. It's like nailin' Jell-O to the wall," McCain said.
McCain laughed at his own jokes throughout the day -- warming up, perhaps, for his late-night cameo on "Saturday Night Live."
He couldn't leave Pennsylvania without a little World Series humor, taking a dig at Obama's 30-minute ad last week that prompted a later starting time for Game 6.
"My first executive order is that no one will be able to have an infomercial delay the beginning of the World Series game, especially when the Phillies are playin', " he said to cheers.
"And the Rays, and the Rays," McCain injected, not wanting to look as though he was siding against Tampa, in politically crucial Florida.
When the crowd nearly drowned him out with boos, he chuckled. "They were worthy opponents," he protested, before returning to his stump speech.
Belatedly he remembered his own state, where polls have been tightening.
"By the way," he said, circling back, "the Arizona Diamondbacks are OK too."