ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with Day to Day. St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center is a field of Republican dreams this week. Usually, it's a hockey stadium.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Last week, Democrats gathered in a basketball arena and a football stadium.

CHADWICK: The campaigns rally the faithful on college ball courts, high-school football fields, and minor-league baseball parks. It's almost enough to make American politics look sportsmanlike. NPR's Mike Pesca wonders if there's a message here.

MIKE PESCA: In a speech delivered in 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the doer of deeds, the man whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. It is known to history as the Man in the Arena speech. If Roosevelt were alive today, he, a progressive, would probably be delighted to see that the man in the arena needn't be a white man, and could even be a woman. What would probably surprise him the most of the modern man in the arena is that they're so often in an actual arena. In America, sporting venues bring a symbolism that candidates delight in, says Whittier College professor Joseph Price.

Dr. JOSEPH PRICE (Religious Studies, Whittier College): In part, it's a place where there's always hope. You can come from behind and win, or there's a promise of a new season. There is a sense in which it's part of a quest, part of an ongoing process of hope and of promise.

PESCA: Logistically, of course, these are venues which have amenities, parking, and security used to crowds of five-, 20-, or, in the case of Obama's convention speech, some 80,000 people. So, maybe a basketball arena ceases to be about basketball if people are there for a speech.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

PESCA: And yet, the reaction from the crowd at Sarah Palin's debut address held at a multi-use sports facility in Ohio is something you'd expect to hear at an athletic event. Here's the crowd right after she talked about her son, a soldier.

(Soundbite of speech, 2008 Republican National Convention, September 3, 2008)

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee): (Shouting) And Todd and I are so proud of him and of all the fine men and women serving this country in uniform.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Unidentified Crowd: (Chanting) U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A...

PESCA: After the speech, the owner of the local minor-league hockey team presented McCain and Palin with jerseys. The day after that speech, the Republican candidates held a rally at a minor-league ballpark in Washington, Pennsylvania, home of the Washington Wild Things.

(Soundbite of McCain/Palin campaign rally, September 4, 2008)

Gov. PALIN: It is so good to be here in Steeler territory, where the Wild Things are.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr. JOE MOCK (Author, "Joe Mock's Ballpark Guide"): Boy, what could be more Americana?

PESCA: Joe Mock, the author of "Joe Mock's Ballpark Guide," has been to over 100 parks, including the O'Fallon, Missouri, field where McCain and Palin visited right after Washington. The home to the River City Rascals is in a suburb of St. Louis.

Mr. MOCK: Even the newer minor-league parks, the one in O'Fallon, Missouri, are often built with a kind of retro look to harken back to decades gone by.

PESCA: A welcoming setting for this year's soccer mom or NASCAR dad, the minor-league fan. They're trying to entertain their family on less money in places like Washington, PA, O'Fallon, or Battle Creek, Michigan. There this past week, Joe Biden asserted, if I walked out of this ballpark, down Michigan and back, I bet I wouldn't run into a single person who thought our economy was strong today, unless I bumped into John McCain. Which, given the similar cities and venues the campaigns are visiting, actually could happen. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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