The roars of the 10,000 crowd almost lifted the roof from the sports arena in downtown Columbus. For there, stepping off the Straight Talk Express bus, was the baddie-snuffing, multiple-weapon-toting, testosterone-riddled Action Man of American politics, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Oh, and his buddy John McCain was there too. It was an inspired piece of casting. With Barack Obama still ahead in the polls and with Sarah Palin failing to become America’s Sweetheart among the crucial undecided voters, John McCain dialled 1-800-TERMINATOR.
And so Arnie did Ohio. He reminded the audience that he visited Columbus every year for his bodybuilding competition, the Arnold Classic.
“As you know, it is all about building up the body and pumping up, and that’s why the next Arnold’s Classic I want to invite Senator Obama because he needs to do something about those skinny legs,” he declared to howls of laughter.
“And then we’ll give him some biceps curls to beef up those scrawny little arms,” he added, before delivering the punchline with actorly skill. “If only we could do something about putting some meat on his ideas,” he boomed.
Arnie pumped up the faithful, and he certainly built up the somewhat creaking body of John McCain. “Ladies and gentlemen, I only play an action hero in the movies. John McCain is a real action hero,” he announced to deafening chants “USA, USA, USA”.
And the Republican candidate surfed the wave of testosterone for the next 20 minutes. The 72-year-old was then ready to kick some Democrat ass. Which is precisely what he did for almost the entirety of his speech. “Senator Obama is running redistributionist-in-chief. I’m running to be Commander-in-Chief,” he declared.
“Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth, I’m running to create the wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful, I’m running to make everyone successful. Senator Obama voted 94 times for tax increases or against tax cuts,” he hollered.
Although John McCain comes across as a likeable man and a deeply committed politician, he and Sarah Palin’s relentless negativity towards Barack Obama is striking, and serves to underline a campaign run by the tried-and-tested Republican strategy of muddying the waters, making it personal and steering clear of tricky issues like the economy.
Barack Obama is all-too aware of this strategy.
Addressing a rally in Colorado on Saturday he declared: “That’s why I’m talking about the economy. That’s why he’s spending these last weeks calling me every name in the book. Because that’s how you play the game in Washington. When you can’t win on the strength of your ideas, you make a big election about small things.”
Obama is not above indulging in a spot of ‘My Blue-Collar Hero is Bigger Than Yours’ one-upmanship either. After Arnie’s barnstorming performance on Saturday, Obama made a call of his own, and turned up in another Ohio town of Cleveland last night with the ultimate working-class legend, Bruce Springsteen in tow.
But it’s impossible to gauge how effective will prove to be the Republican’s ability to play on the fears — both unspoken and voiced — of the voters. The issues are the acronymically-apt Abortion, Racism, Socialism, Economy.
Sarah Palin in particular has been banging the drum for the pro-life side. But even the lipsticked pitbull has baulked at directly setting alight this tinderbox issue, preferring to speak in code at her rallies by promising to protect an America “where every innocent life counts”.
Likewise, racism is the great (white) elephant in the room, but it’s an issue that won’t roam freely until after the votes are counted.
At the Columbus rally, nobody mentioned race, but they all mentioned fear. “I’m scared to death of socialism,” explained local woman Doris Grenwell. “I’m afraid Barack Obama doesn’t value human life like John and Sarah do,” said mother-of-three Jamie Baywell from Dayton Ohio. “I don’t think it’ll be the same USA if Obama is elected.”