Kerry: 'Get to those polls and help change this country's direction'

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The Independent US

His voice was hoarse, but he was buoyant. The rangy senator from Massachusetts who had stayed in the race against all the odds, cast his vote yesterday on a ballot in Boston that bore his name for president of the United States.

His voice was hoarse, but he was buoyant. The rangy senator from Massachusetts who had stayed in the race against all the odds, cast his vote yesterday on a ballot in Boston that bore his name for president of the United States.

"I don't think anybody can anticipate what it's like to see your name on the ballot for president," he said. "It's very special. It's exciting."

He was halfway through a day that saw him race across half of the country in a final push to expel George Bush from the White House.

At dawn yesterday, the Democratic presidential contender was handing out information packs to election volunteers as he made a final appearance in La Crosse in the battleground state of Wisconsin, before heading home to Boston to vote after a quick stop in Michigan.

"It's just a magical kind of day," the challenger said when told of the long voter lines across the state of Wisconsin.

The night before, he had held his final campaign rally in Cleveland. "You have no idea how beautiful you look back there!" Mr Kerry enthused to the 50,000-strong crowd arrayed all the way from the Cleveland Mall, overlooking Lake Erie, to the city's public library two blocks back.

It was a chilly night, and the crowd had waited patiently for almost four hours for the candidate to greet them on this, the last night of the 2004 presidential election campaign. For Senator Kerry, it was his fourth campaign appearance of the day - but far from his last - in his fourth consecutive state.

This, though, was not a moment of weariness or self-doubt for anyone. The Democratic candidate may not be easily given to passionate outbursts of emotion, but he looked and sounded like a man who truly believed in the possibility of victory. He smiled broadly, saluted his veteran's salute, made a couple of prayer gestures with his hands and raised one finger to echo the chants from the crowd of: "One more day! One more day!"

This rally - the culmination of almost two years of planning and criss-crossing the country, of hand-to-hand political combat first through the primary season and then through the roller-coaster general election campaign - was clearly meant to be something special. In what may turn out to be the most closely contested swing state of all, special was certainly what was required.

The unlovely, down-at-heel rust-belt city of Cleveland was not used to this kind of attention, and clearly revelled in it. Local Congressman Sherrod Brown looked out on the sea of union signs, Kerry-Edwards balloons and home-made banners clamouring for everything from more jobs to better health care and declared it "the largest crowd in the history of Ohio politics".

For Mr Kerry, it was a homecoming of sorts, since Cleveland was where he kicked off his campaign after winning the Democratic Party nomination. It has welcomed him with open arms many times since. On Monday night, he was escorted by a bevy of political and showbusiness stars - everyone from John Glenn, the astronaut turned Ohio senator, now in retirement, to Larry David, the television comedy writer and actor responsible for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Top billing, though, went to Bruce Springsteen, who put in the last of three appearances on Senator Kerry's behalf and thrilled the crowd with a mixture of poetry, political commentary and acoustic renditions of some of his more famous old songs - "Thunder Road", which he dedicated to another travelling companion, the World Trade Centre widow and activist Kristin Breitweiser, "The Promised Land" and, inevitably, the song that has become the Kerry campaign theme tune, "No Surrender". Springsteen was the perfect performer for the venue, his ballads of working-class heroes and broken dreams the ideal soundtrack for a city that has suffered a decimation of its manufacturing base over the past 25 years. "I want my job back!" said one sign, echoing the frequent anti-Bush mantra of the past year "I want my country back!" One union official in the crowd said he had worked out that, during the current Bush administration, one Ohioan job had been lost every six and a half minutes.

Senator Kerry echoed those sentiments in his remarks. "If you entrust me with the presidency of this nation, I will go to work every day for you, the middle class," he pledged. "We trust you! We trust you!" the crowd shouted back.

He touched on many of his by now familiar campaign themes - the war in Iraq, the inequities of President Bush's tax cuts - but also sought to remain upbeat. Above all, he urged the crowd to get out the vote. "Get people to those polls," he said, "and help us change the direction of this country."

Nobody, not even Republicans, would disagree that that was the key to victory in this agonisingly close and fiercely contested race. A high turnout in Cleveland and surrounding Cuyahoga County is vital if he wants to take Ohio away from President Bush, who won here narrowly four years ago.

After the final appearance in La Crosse, Senator Kerry returned to home base in Boston. He voted at his local precinct on Beacon Hill. He then ate his traditional election day lunch of oysters and chowder at Boston's oldest restaurant, the Union Oyster House. He has eaten there at the conclusion of every one of his campaigns for the past 20 years, and has not lost one yet.