- 4 Nov 08, 03:38 AM GMT
Phoenix, Arizona: By the time the sun rises over the dusty, dry landscape around Phoenix, Arizona, on election day, the sand will have run out.
There will be no more time for an October (or November) surprise. There will be no more time to sway the voters. There will be no more time full-stop.
The McCain latex masks will be marked down in price. The Rocky theme tune CD that he strides out to will be put back in its case. Joe the Plumber will vanish down the plug hole.
All there will be left is the voter, a curtain drawn behind them, deciding the fate of the man who, in his own well-worn phrase, has devoted his life to his country since the age of 17.
This is a man who by his own admission has lived in the shadow of his father and grandfather for his entire life. A man whose autobiography - written some time ago - suggests he may not yet have fulfilled his own aspirations to honour, as he sees it, the family name.
Perhaps that is why, in the face of such overwhelming odds, he does not give up. There may have been moments where his campaign seemed to change tack with alarming regularity, suggesting to some a lack of leadership at the helm. Yet John McCain has kept his belief alive, just as he did all those years ago as a prisoner-of-war.
So today, as that sun rises over Arizona, I imagine he will look out the window, stretch the arms that remain stiff from the torture he once endured, and relish his last chance to draw a few people over to his side. He is a determined man. That much has become clear in the past 18 months.
As John McCain's plane flew into Indianapolis for one of his last rallies, and taxied right to the edge of a crowd of perhaps 2,000, I thought back to those pictures from a year ago, of the senator for Arizona wheeling his own bags through an airport. His campaign was out of money, he was a loser, a no-chancer.
Yet in Indiana, under hot November sunshine, as "the Mac" strode on to the steps, and walked down towards the podium, he was most certainly back. He is enjoying these final hours.
Can he do it? He has two (slim) chances as I see it.
The first is that his campaign manager is actually right when he says that in some states, where McCain is still competitive (Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, places like that) the undecided voter will turn out for him in the end. This assumes that the polls are right when they say that anything up to 9% of voters in these states are undecided. It also assumes they will go to the polling station. It assumes too they will vote there for McCain.
The second is that voters have been lying to the pollsters. That the polls are wrong. That race will be the deciding factor in this election. Americans like to be seen (in public) to back a winner. If the latent racism in this country is greater than I think it is, then we may be in for a surprise.
That is certainly the fear of the African-American man who helped to load our 23 bags of television kit on to the conveyor belt at Indianapolis airport a few hours ago. He had voted early, last week.
When I told him that I was following John McCain, he paused, then - to a giggle from the check-in women - said: "How's the old man holding up?"
"I think he's losing at the moment," I replied.
"I've been in America too long to believe it until I see it," he said.
So although it wouldn't please the staff at check-in, John McCain does - in the minds of some - have a chance left.
I suspect though that Mr McCain, a man who is so committed to his country, who believes in its sense of fairness, its honour, its dignity, would take no joy in winning an election, simply because his fellow citizens did not want to vote for a black man.
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