by Steve Crilley, currently in Springfield, Virginia
Four years ago John Kerry took Washington D.C. with about 90 percent of the vote. It makes the task of getting a range of opinions just a little more difficult when almost everyone you ask on the streets tells you they're voting for Obama. Across the river lies the state of Virginia. It was generally regarded as a safe seat for the Republicans but now it has become a key battleground state for both parties. John McCain was holding a rally outside of Springfield, Virginia so without much of clue how to get there - I grabbed a few maps and set out.
Two hours later I was somewhere in rural Virginia and I flagged down a McCain/Palin shuttle bus with buoyant supporters who were on their way to the rally. I say supporters (there were only 2 on my bus!). Another 30 minutes the bus turned into what appeared to be lorry park and draped over a large building was a huge cloth sign flapping in the wind that read "Country First". I'd arrived and this was going to be an eye-opener.
You go through airport style security and are questioned by three or four security offices. I had to unscrew my FM4 microphone to prove what I was all about - then I was let loose to roam around in this rather interesting world of die-hard Republican supporters. You meet all sorts here, from normal fans of John McCain to complete wackos with megaphones screaming out "a vote for Obama is a vote to kill babies!" What you mainly observe (and this is something Bill Clinton eloquently pointed out this week about McCain rallies) is a lack of the diverse mix of American people. In other words I couldn't see any African-Americans, Hispanics or people from minority backgrounds.
I set off with my microphone. Suddenly I saw of group of young Chinese people by some barriers, but they turned out to be from Chinese Central Television and introduced me to "the most famous TV anchorman in China". I made my excuses when they started interviewing me about why Denmark was such a conservative country.
John McCain (Foto: APA)
A True American
Back to business and most of the McCain supporters here were friendly and even curious about what someone from Austria was doing among them here. And they were positive about their election chances. "The polls were wrong" or "it's a lot closer than they say" were things I heard often. I sat down on the grass to play devil's advocate with a lady dressed almost head to foot in red. She told me that for her John McCain was a true American and he loved his country. No amount of me suggesting that Barack Obama probably loved his country just as much impressed her.
I worry about this fervent nationalism and how it's used whether in Austria, the UK or here in the US. What is the definition of a true American or a true anyone? In fact, if you define America by its blend of different people, cultures and backgrounds - surely Obama personifies this (Kenyan father, white mother, schooling in Indonesia, Hawaii etc).
You meet a lot of ex-service personnel at these rallies. I talked with a young guy who had been in Afghanistan and Iraq and had most of lower legs blown off. Like many he looks up to John McCain as an inspirational figure and McCain's story of being incarcerated for five years in Vietnam resonates for veterans.
The demographic here is definitely a lot older. I mean, if you sampled the age of people here we're looking mostly of people aged 55+. At the age of 72, John McCain is an inspiring force for many of them. One senior lady told me that if John McCain was willing to get on planes and fly around the country campaigning at his age, she was more than happy to get on a bus and listen to what he had to say.
Only one guy told me that he thought the election was lost and that Obama was going to win. For most people here, it's a bit like watching your team playing a game against Manchester United, you're a goal down and the match has entered extra time. But politics is a game full of surprises and most of these supporters were full of hope that their team could still somehow defy what seems to be an inevitable win for Obama on Tuesday.