Cincinnati, Ohio – Barack Obama looked less like a candidate running the home stretch and more like a winner taking a victory lap at campaign stops in Columbus and Cincinnati Sunday. He appeared at ease, laughing at his own jokes and projecting confidence. At both events, Obama supporters grinned, high-fived, and celebrated what many feel is a certain Obama victory on Nov. 4. One supporter, a black man in his early 20s, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. As he filed onto the field at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, he leapt into the air and cried, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
The mood was no less jubilant at the rally in Columbus. Cornal Garnett Henning Sr., a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, opened the rally with a prayer in which he thanked God for “a Moses and a Martin called Barack Obama.” Henning also stoked fears among Ohio Democrats that Republicans might try to steal the election, as some believe they did four years ago. He prayed that “those who cast that sacred vote will not be denied their full value as citizens of this great country.”
Fighting complacency was a major theme of each speaker. Columbus mayor Michael Coleman implored the crowd of 60,000 to vote, telling them that the Republicans would do “anything and everything to prevent us from voting.” Coleman said, “Complacency is the enemy of victory.”
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland urged the crowd to take advantage of the state’s liberal early-voting policies, saying, “If enough of you vote, this thing could be wrapped up by the time the polls open on November the fourth.”
Obama opened his speech with similar entreaties, but his confidence was clear. “Ohio, I have just two words for you,” he said. “Two days.” The crowd roared in approval. “We are two days away from changing America, and its going to start right here in the great state of Ohio.”
In between the rallies in Columbus and Cincinnati, Obama jetted to Cleveland for a rally with aging rocker Bruce Springsteen in front of 80,000. Obama was reportedly even more self-assured at that rally. “I’ve got to tell you, the last couple of days I’ve just been feeling good,” he said, “You start to think we might be able to win an election on Nov. 4.”
Polls show that his optimism is somewhat justified. The Columbus Dispatch published the results of its final pre-election poll Sunday morning, and it had Obama up by six points. The Dispatch noted that no candidate who trailed in its final poll had won Ohio in the modern era. Obama also leads in other polls — the Real Clear Politics average has him winning Ohio by 4.6 points — but not in all of them. The latest Mason-Dixon poll has McCain winning Ohio by two.
In addition to shoring up his own support, Obama had another mission on Sunday: Two of the country’s closest House races are in Columbus and Cincinnati, and high turnout for Obama would help Democratic challengers in both. In Columbus, Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce is retiring. Republican state senator and Iraq veteran Steve Stivers is running for her seat against Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy. Kilroy didn’t speak at Sunday’s rally in Columbus, but she got a plug from nearly everyone who did.
In Cincinnati, Democratic state representative Steve Driehaus is challenging seven-term Republican Rep. Steve Chabot. At Sunday night’s rally in Cincinnati, Driehaus told the crowd of 27,000, “We need a voice who will work with Barack Obama to pass a Democratic agenda for the United States.” When it was Obama’s turn to speak, he heartily endorsed Driehaus.
As one of few Republicans representing a major urban area, Chabot is no stranger to close races, but this is his toughest challenge yet. No Republican represents a higher percentage of black voters, over 90 percent of whom are supporting Obama in this race. High turnout in this demographic could be bad news for Chabot, and the loss of Chabot would be bad news for conservatives. He consistently gets high marks from groups like Citizens Against Government Waste for fighting spending increases and resisting tax hikes.
Both Stivers and Chabot are statistically tied with their opponents. Chabot has slightly better odds than Stivers thanks to name-recognition. Also, Stivers is facing demographic challenges of his own: Many Republicans in Columbus have moved out of the 15th district, replaced by young professionals who tend to tilt left. But both races are true toss-ups, and Obama’s coattails could play a deciding role.
Those coattails could be long, indeed. Obama addressed an incredible 167,000 Ohioans Sunday at rallies that felt more like victory celebrations than anything else. And if you’re an Obama supporter, why not celebrate now? If he wins, it won’t be long before Washington politics start to take their toll. There will be compromises and unpopular decisions, and challenges that (conservatives predict) he won’t handle well.
The Obama phenomenon is only possible because he doesn’t have too extensive a national record to speak of. The rhetoric can’t be sustained once he actually starts to govern. It’s been a magical 21 months for Obama supporters, but no matter who wins on Tuesday, it’s last call for hope and change.
— Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.