CHESTER, Pa. -- Appearing this morning on the main quad of Widener University here in suburban Philadelphia, Barack Obama braved the blinding rain, rising mud and whipping, 40-degree wind to make one last push for the battleground state of Pennsylvania. But the sense I got sloshing through the crowd of more than 9,000--many of whom stood in the storm for hours before Obama even arrived--was that they didn't come out of concern for anything as prosaic as electoral math. They came because they hoped to witness history.
Take Dot Wilson and her daughter Liz. When I caught up with the Wilsons, they were standing ankle-deep in the middle of a swampy outfield. Obama had just finished speaking. I asked what they thought. "Barack was mesmerizing," said Dot. "Just mesmerizing." So I assume you'll be voting for him in Pennsylvania, right? "Oh no," said Dot. "We came up from Delaware." Turns out that Dot, like some 18 million other Democratic primary voters, was originally a Hillary Clinton fan. It was Liz--a longtime Obamaniac--who sold her on the Illinois senator. The Wilsons had already seen Obama speak in Wilmington earlier this year. But today was a special occasion. All Liz wanted for her birthday, Dot told me, was to skip a day of school and attend an Obama rally.
How old are you now, Liz? I asked.
"Well, my birthday isn't until Thursday," Liz said. "But I'll be 17."
So you live in a state that won't matter on Election Day. You can't even vote yet. But you still skipped school to get sopping wet?
"That's right," said Dot, shivering. "This was totally worth it." I thought for a second she was being sarcastic. She wasn't.
For a candidate, the final days of a presidential campaign are not about making news. They're about driving home your closing argument in the media markets that matter most. That's why Obama came to Delaware County--one of three suburban Philadelphia counties responsible for his unprecedented double-digit lead over McCain--and basically repeated his final stump speech with a few meteorological improvisations added for metaphorical effect. "We've faced bad weather before," he said, his voice deeper and growlier than usual. "We've faced clouds in the sky. It's precisely when times are tough that we have to rise up together."
But people like the Wilsons come for another reason altogther. "Basically, the only thing I've known is President Bush," Liz told me. "That's what I though politics was. But then Obama showed up and I saw it could be something positive, something good. I've been obsessed ever since."
"I hope she can vote for Barack in 2012," said Dot. Then they waded off together through the grass.