SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- "Fight!…Fight!…Fight!" The word punctuated John McCain's peroration to thousands of Pennsylvanians who turned out in Hershey on a cold, drizzly morning to cheer him and running mate Sarah Palin.
"Fight for the ideals and character of a free people," McCain urged, as he neared the end of his speech. "Fight for our children's future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all."
The crowd inside the Giant Center at Hershey Park was cheering so loudly as to drown out most of the Republican candidate's words, so that all they heard was "fight!"
That was enough, however, for Republicans like Joe the Recording Engineer. Joe Trojcak owns a sound studio near Hershey and says he's been a Republican activist since 1992. "I got tired of yelling at my TV," explains Trojcak, 44, who worked as a volunteer at yesterday's "Road to Victory" rally.
Small businessmen like Trojcak have become Republican heroes ever since the Oct. 12 chance encounter between Barack Obama and "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher in Ohio.
"Now, Joe didn't ask for Senator Obama to come to his house, and he didn't ask to be famous," McCain told the crowd in Hershey. "He certainly didn't ask for the political attacks on him from the Obama campaign. Joe's dream is to own a small business that will create jobs, and the attacks on him are an attack on small businesses all over the country."
In that fateful encounter with Wurzelbacher, Obama described his plan to "spread the wealth around." McCain and Palin have been hanging those four words around the Democrat's neck ever since.
"It doesn't sound like too many of you are supporting Barack the Wealth Spreader," Palin said in Hershey.
ALAS, IT NOW APPEARS there is a "spread the wealth" majority in America, if the polls are to be believed. Disbelieving polls has become an article of GOP faith in recent weeks, however. Pollsters have come to rival even the liberal media as an enemy in Republican eyes.
McCain was preaching to the converted yesterday when he slammed the pundits who "have written us off, just like they've done before," and accused Obama of prematurely "measuring the drapes" in the White House.
"I guess I'm old fashioned about these things. I prefer to let the voters weigh in before presuming the outcome," McCain said to cheers from the Pennsylvania crowd.
If the outcome were presumed from the current polls, Obama would be advised to hurry up with those drapery measurements. Six of the 10 most recent national polls show the Democrat at 50 percent or higher. The situation for the Republican ticket looks even worse in the battleground states. Obama leads by more than 4 points in Nevada, 8 points in New Mexico, 7 points in Colorado, 3 points in Florida, 6 points in Ohio, and a shocking 7 points in Virginia.
Nevertheless, many Republicans cherry-pick the polls and say they see "tightening" in the contest. Gallup says Obama's national lead may be as small as 2 points, depending on how "likely voters" are gauged. The possibility of a McCain victory at this point would appear to depend upon a powerful anti-Obama shift among undecided voters, but even that possibility might not be enough to justify the GOP's last-ditch effort in Pennsylvania.
No poll since April has shown McCain leading in Pennsylvania, and the last time he was tied in the Keystone State was mid-September, before the financial crisis -- and McCain's reaction to that crisis -- knocked the bottom out of his poll numbers.
WITH THE HELP of Joe the Plumber, however, the Republican campaign has finally found a solid hook to hang the "tax-and-spend liberal" label on Obama, pounding home an issue that has always been the GOP's strong suit.
Obama's "spread the wealth" comment was "one of those rare moments when [his] real ideology starts to come through," Palin said later yesterday in a solo appearance at Shippensburg University. "Barack Obama is for bigger, more controlling government and higher taxes."
Palin praised small businesses as "the backbone of our economy." Plenty of that backbone was in the crowd, including "Dick the Contractor" Tydings, who had driven 50 miles for a chance to see Sarah the Hockey Mom. Tydings was among the thousands who stood outside for hours on a cold, windy day, waiting in line for the Palin rally in Shippensburg.
Enthusiasm in the predominantly Republican region of central Pennsylvania might not be enough to offset support for Obama in Democrat-heavy Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but it obviously encouraged a campaign that needs as much encouragement as it can get.
In Hershey, McCain vowed to "fight to the end," and brought the crowd to its feet with his defiant conclusion.
"Stand up! Stand up! Stand up and fight! America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit.…Now, let's go win this election and get this country moving again."
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