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The last rally

Mark Mardell | 01:05 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

Cleveland, Ohio

Obama and supporter in Cleveland

The trumpets and tubas of the Shaw High School Marching band sway and swing, glinting under the spotlights as they thump out tremendous versions of soul standards, fat with horns.

They're just one part of the rally building up to President Obama's last planned appearance on the campaign trail of this critical election campaign.
The speeches are short and snappy.

A congressman tells the crowd that they are not going to let America be "taken back" by insurance companies and oil companies. A woman reminisces about her feelings of exhilaration and excitement in 2008. This is all about recapturing some of that feeling.

A senator asks them to think about five people who might not be planning to vote and persuade them to go to the polls. The state's attorney general tells them he was elected by just 1,234 votes, which works out as one vote in every precinct. The lesson: every single vote counts.

The rapper Common praises Mr Obama's "great honest spirit" and bounces up and down as he gets the crowd to chant "Go! Go! Go!" A gravel voiced preacher urges the crowd to join hands and pray to the Lord "hold in your hands the president of our nation, be with his family and hold them in your grip of grace".

It does seem now only divine intervention can save Mr Obama's Democrats from losing the House on Tuesday. But Republican victory is not in the bag and anyway the scale of defeat matters. The Democrats need to motivate as many as possible of those voters who turned out for Mr Obama in 2008.

This is President Obama's last planned rally of the 2010 campaign. Under giant signs saying "moving America forward" he joked about his greying hair and got the crowd to yell "Yes, we can" just like in the old days.

His message was pretty simple. Voters could defy the "conventional wisdom, the stale wisdom". Republicans, he argued, had created the economic mess and wanted to go back to the policies that had failed in the past. They had decided not to help the recovery because they would rather keep the country angry, so they could win this election and kick him out of office in 2012.

And of course the appeal. "Cleveland. I need you to keep on fighting. I need you to vote. I need your neighbours to vote".

It's not all about big rallies. Over the past few weeks those signed up to Organising for America have been bombard with e-mails. Today's tells me the next half an hour is critical. It urges supporters to phone a friend, and indeed a stranger, and persuade them to vote. Yesterday's urges people to "rake the leaves later" and make 20 calls.

This is part of the suggested script

"Hello, is [VOTER NAME] there?
Hi! This is [YOUR NAME], a fellow voter [from Maryland, if you are from the same state] who supports President Barack Obama.

Official records show that you have voted in the past. We are calling voters like you to say thank you.

Thank you for being a voter! [PAUSE] Since you are the kind of person who votes and cares about the community, we wanted to remind you about the election this Tuesday, November 2nd"... and so on.

The rally, of course, finished on cheering and placard waving. But I am not sure it did the trick. This was a meeting for activists but four big blocks of seats were empty.

Perhaps that was down to fire regulations, I don't know. But the president seemed slightly lower key than I have seen him in the past, the speech heartfelt but not fresh. Despite the big build up, it seemed to me all rather low energy for the last rally in a critical election.


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