Anatomy Of A Campaign Rally: John McCain

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NPR also visited a rally for Democrat Barack Obama in North Carolina.

Sen. John McCain

hide captionSen. John McCain greets the packed and screaming crowd as he enters the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center in North Carolina.

David Gilkey/NPR

What's it like inside the large rallies Barack Obama and John McCain are holding? We hear sound bites from the events each day, but who waits in lines to get into these rallies — and what awaits them? NPR spent a weekend in North Carolina to find out.

John McCain's crowds these days include people like Ron Grant, a 30-year-old Republican who says he's here to take a stand.

"Honestly, I came out this morning because I wanted to take the opportunity to see Sen. McCain," Grant says. And, "because I refuse to believe that North Carolina is a battleground state. This is a red state. This has been a red state for years. And this is going to be a red state for McCain in this election."

McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, isn't here in person. But she is on a lot of the campaign buttons, which feature such slogans as "Don't Let The Lipstick Fool You," "Pit Bulls For McCain And Palin," and "You Go Girl."

Inside the arena, bluegrass music plays, and the crowd is led in the Pledge of Allegiance.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Robin Hayes is getting things started, with a sense of mission. "God has blessed America. But he is asking us to respond to him," Hayes tells the crowd.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, another North Carolina Republican, is also part of the warm-up act.

"Let me tell you why you, McCain-Palin supporters, have to vote early. Because we're going to go vote early once. ACORN and those liberal groups are going to vote 70 times."

McHenry is referring to the grass-roots group — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — that is accused of voter registration fraud.

The crowd is eating it up. Among them is Carl Peraino, who hasn't always been a McCain supporter.

"I think if Hillary [Clinton] would have been here, I might have gone the other way," Peraino says.

Peraino, 51, sells paint to automobile plants. Clinton, he says, impressed him with her experience. Obama hasn't, so Peraino has decided on McCain. He drove here for a look at the man who will be getting his vote.

"I feel more secure after I listen to him, upfront and in person," Peraino says.

Now comes his chance. As McCain enters, the crowd chants his name.

At this rally, as at others, McCain talks about Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber who famously complained about Obama's tax plan. Volunteers have handed out signs that look homemade to fit the day's message.

"It says 'Fight for Joe the Plumber.' And 'We are Joe the Plumber,' " says Tamera Frank.

Frank drove here the night before and got a hotel room so she could hear McCain.

"I don't listen very much to the polls, because you come out here and you hear the voice of the real American people," Frank says.

Her mom, Irma Silvers, says she doesn't believe any news report that says McCain's campaign is struggling. "Look at the turnout here. Do you think this is not a representation of North Carolina?"

Within a half-hour, the stage, the risers and the large American flag are coming down. One of the stragglers is an Air Force veteran named Charlie Suther. He's one of the McCain supporters who has grown frustrated with the news media.

Suther says he's angry because reporters play up McCain's attacks on Obama, but downplay attacks in the other direction.

"Now, I know there's stretching on both sides; I know the truth is somewhere in the middle. But you, as a member of the Fourth Estate, have to make sure the people can decide," he says.

The arena soon empties. McCain, for his part, left a while ago for Virginia, another red state where the polls are close.

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