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ELECTION 2008: THE REPUBLICANS

For McCain: 7 states, 20 hours, 1 last shot

November 04, 2008|Maeve Reston | Reston is a Times staff writer.

ROSWELL, N.M. — John McCain's 20-hour sprint to election day began Monday as most of his mornings have for a year and a half: with a stroll out of his hotel, his wife at his side, a brief wave with one hand and an enormous coffee cup in the other.

This time it was the sunlit front entrance of the Biltmore in Miami beneath towering palms. He'd caught just a few hours' sleep after a dizzying night where he traveled from a somber town hall in New Hampshire to a throbbing midnight rally at a Miami arena.

He punched out each of Monday's stops in about 30 minutes: a parking lot near Tampa Bay; airport hangars in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Mexico; and a pavilion in Nevada. He greeted supporters like old friends, reading off the signs they held announcing themselves as variations of "Joe the Plumber."

"Friends, I'm so touched by this turnout, I'm so grateful for this expression of support. I thank you," McCain told a crowd of 5,000 in Blountville, Tenn., near the border with Virginia. He stretched his arms out as he singled them out:

"There's Kelly the nurse! . . . and here's Janet the professor, and Rick the preacher -- Rick the preacher. Thank you Rick! They're all here! Army wives! Jeff the retired soldier. They're all here! Coal miner's daughter. Thank you! Thank you very much."

His top aides stretched their legs on the tarmac, cellphones pressed to their ears as they called headquarters for the latest updates.

On the hops between airports, McCain was surrounded by aides who'd traveled with him for two years and his closest friends, including four Senate colleagues and the former governor of Pennsylvania, who urged him to rest, making sure he ate fried chicken and peach cobbler and soothed his hoarse voice with lozenges.

His crowds were hopeful -- eager to prove the predictions of "the media" wrong. At an outdoor rally in Indianapolis where the jets roaring in forced McCain to stop several times, Jeanette Schriner of nearby Fishers was unnerved by all the accounts writing McCain off.

"I find the press quite depressing," said the 47-year-old mother, who has stopped watching the campaign on television. "But I do feel like things are tightening, and I do feel like people like myself are going to come out and vote tomorrow and we haven't been given the respect we deserve."

McCain shows no sign he is ready for this marathon to end. There is none of the bitterness that marked the end of his 2000 bid for the Republican nomination, when he weathered smears against his wife and child and railed against "agents of intolerance" in his party.

But McCain is also a markedly different candidate than the freewheeling talker of earlier this year. He was tightly scripted for six of seven rallies Monday. The only stop where he was to speak extemporaneously was his last, well after midnight on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Ariz., where he has ended every one of his statewide campaigns in the tradition of former Arizona senator and failed presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

McCain ended each speech with his familiar call to fight, which his speechwriter and closest aide, Mark Salter, debuted at the GOP convention.

After arriving in Roswell, N.M., at sunset, with the shadowy outline of a plane graveyard in the distance, McCain delivered the speech for what was likely one of the last times.

"I'm an American and I choose to fight. Don't give up hope. Be strong. Have courage and fight. Fight for new direction for our country," he shouted, pounding his fist. "Stand up, stand up and fight. America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history. Now let's go win this election and get this country America moving again."

--

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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