Columbus, Ohio – John McCain supporters in Ohio still think he can win the state, but they are very worried about the state’s problems with voter fraud, and they are surprised the story isn’t getting more national attention.
“We don’t know whether it’s been stolen already or not,” one told me at a McCain rally in Columbus on Friday. “Because of ACORN,” his companion added.
The supporter, an older gentleman named Lindy Miller, told me that in his hometown, ACORN was caught registering Alzheimer’s patients at a nursing home. Actually, it wasn’t ACORN that registered 95-year-old Mildred Meddock and let her cast an absentee ballot. According to the Columbus Dispatch, it was two Highland County Board of Elections employees — the very people who are supposed to be safeguarding elections.
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, has come under fire for allowing Ohioans to register and vote absentee on the same day, because it encourages unethical behavior and fraud. The state GOP sued to halt the practice, but the courts sided with Brunner. Brunner argued that new registrations will be verified before the final tally and ballots found to be fraudulent will be thrown out.
McCain supporters say it’s the sheer scope of the problem that worries them. “They’re questioning 200,000 already,” a supporter named Jim Albaugh told me. That’s about one third of all new voter registrations in Ohio, according to the Dispatch. It’s also about 80,000 more than President Bush’s margin of victory in the state in 2004.
Another supporter who expressed concern about Brunner was Marlene Newman of Dublin, Ohio. Newman and her friend told me that they had a run-in with a group of protesters before the rally, and the issue of voter fraud came up. “They said the ACORN stuff was just voter-registration fraud, not voter fraud,” Newman said. “But voter-registration fraud is voter fraud if those people manage to vote.”
Newman was one of several supporters at the rally dressed as Sarah Palin for Halloween. McCain and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were the main attractions at Friday night’s rally, but any mention of Palin or Joe the Plumber got the biggest cheers. Everyone I talked to said the same thing: “We love Sarah.”
The first big speaker of the night was House GOP leader John Boehner, who represents a congressional district just west of here. Earlier this week, at a campaign stop in a bar in Oxford, Ohio, Boehner ripped Barack Obama for voting “present” over 100 times in the Illinois state senate. “In Congress, we have a red button, a green button and a yellow button,” Boehner said. “Green means ‘yes,’ red means ‘no,’ and yellow means you’re a chicken s***.”
Boehner adopted a more family-friendly tone at Friday night’s rally before several thousand at Columbus’s Nationwide Arena. He urged Ohioans to vote for McCain, because “I can’t handle Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and all those liberal democrats all by myself.”
Boehner also introduced Steve Stivers, an Iraq war-veteran and Ohio state senator who is running to replace retiring U.S. congresswoman Deborah Pryce. Stivers greeted the crowd with Ohio State University’s “O-H-I-O” chant, to remind people that “Ohio is the Buckeye State, not the ACORN state.” (OSU is located in Columbus; nearly everyone not wearing a McCain-Palin shirt was dressed in Buckeyes gear.)
OSU has a bye this week, so Stivers reminded fans that they would have a “free three hours” on Saturday to make phone calls and knock on doors. “Four years ago you broke the hearts of every liberal in America,” Stivers said. “You broke the heart of George Soros, Keith Olbermann, the New York Times, and Hollywood.” Stivers paused after each villain to allow for progressively louder boos. The press, huddled around the risers near the back of the crowd, mostly ignored the jabs.
It wasn’t the only shot the press took Friday night. After Stivers, country-music star Hank Williams Jr. sang his campaign anthem “McCain-Palin Tradition,” which begins with a shot at the “left-wing liberal media” which “most of the American people don’t believe.” Williams also got a huge cheer when he sang, “John and Sarah tell you just what they think. And they’re not gonna blink. And they don’t have terrorist friends to whom their careers are linked.”
Gov. Schwarzenegger maintained the evening’s jocular tone with a few opening jokes about Obama’s slight build. “We’re going to make him do some bicep curls to beef up those scrawny little arms,” he said. But the substance of Schwarzenegger’s speech was about leaving Europe four decades ago “because socialism killed opportunities there.”
Schwarzenegger said, “Many entrepreneurs and business leaders all left and took many jobs with them. And I tell you, in recent years, Europe has realized its mistakes and begun rolling back some of its spread-the-wealth policies.” The crowd cheered this indirect reference to Ohio’s own Joe Wurzelbacher, who elicited Obama’s “spread the wealth” comments when he asked him a question about his tax plan.
When it was McCain’s turn, he referenced Joe more directly:
Joe didn’t ask for Senator Obama to come to his house, and he didn’t ask to be famous. 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. Small businesses employ 84 percent of Americans, and we need to support these small businesses. Taxing small businesses will kill jobs. We can’t let that happen.
Senator Obama is running to be Redistributionist in Chief. I’m running to be Commander in Chief. Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I’m running to create more wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I’m running to make everyone successful.
Unlike Schwarzenegger, McCain did not use the s-word. But for his supporters, that’s what Obamanomics amount to. “Free enterprise versus socialism,” was Lindy Miller’s answer when I asked him to name the most important issue in the election. “That’s what it’s been for a long time.”