The day was orchestrated for imagery and soaring sound bites, and as rainstorms tracked him across the Midwest, the candidate did his best to stick to the script.
John F. Kerry knew the filibuster was over on Monday, as rock legends sang for him, his daughters embraced him and crowds screeched for him in a torrential downpour. There was time left only for succinct closing arguments.
The Democratic challenger brought his roller-coaster two-year quest for the presidency to a frenetic close Monday, racing through battleground states, as he scaled back the attacks on his opponent and pleaded with voters one final time to opt for change in a race that by all accounts is deadlocked.
"This is the choice," he told a small crowd in Orlando as he bid goodbye to Florida, the site of the 2000 election dispute. "This is the moment of accountability for the Americans, and it is the moment where the world is watching what you are going to do. All of the hopes and dreams of our country are on the line today."
It was like that throughout the 20-hour day -- less blame, high hopes and passionate pleas, that started under a promising sun near Walt Disney World and wound down in Cleveland with rocker Bruce Springsteen singing Kerry's theme song "No Surrender" to a rally of 50,000 cheering fans. In between, Stevie Wonder played "America" on a harmonica for the Democratic presidential candidate during a stop here, and in Milwaukee several thousand supporters bundled under umbrellas on a downtown street to hear Kerry plead for help and offer hope.
"Here we are 24 hours from the great moment that the world and America is waiting for," he shouted. "I need you in these hours to go out and do the hard work, knock on those doors, make those phone calls, talk to friends, take people to the polls. This election outcome is in your hands. This is a your chance to hold George Bush accountable."
Kerry kept his attacks on Bush to a minimum -- but not nonexistent. He called it "inexcusable" that the president sent troops to war "without the arms they need, without the ability to have allies on their side."
Running mate John Edwards kept up the attacks, but stayed in sync with the day's message of hope. He talked up Kerry's character, repeatedly describing him as a "fighter" and proclaiming "there is nobody you would rather be in a foxhole with than John Kerry." In appearances in Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio and Florida, Edwards sought to portray the race as a choice between a ticket that looks out for special interests and one that would "fight for you."
"You cannot stand with big HMOs, big drug companies, big insurance companies, Halliburton, big oil companies and the Saudi royal family and still fight for the American people," Edwards said at a morning rally in St. Paul, Minn.
"They don't hear the voice of a young boy or young girl who don't understand why they're being treated differently just because of the color of their skin," Edwards said, drawing some of the largest applause of his 15-minute stump speech.
Kerry began his day at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Orlando for a Mass to mark All Saints' Day. Throughout the day, he sprinkled his final message with the refrain "if you believe" and "I believe." It was meant to lay out his plans and vision -- a response to his opponents' charges that Kerry only believes in what is politically expedient.
Win or lose, Kerry's has been one of the more remarkable journeys in recent American presidential politics, as the Massachusetts senator plunged from an aura of invincibility 18 months ago to the depths of uncertainty, written off a year ago before the first primary votes were cast. As former Vermont governor Howard Dean surged, Kerry floundered -- a flat message, a chaotic staff upheaval, a need for money that forced him to mortgage his Boston home to stay in the race.
And then -- true to his reputation as a good closer -- Kerry unexpectedly bounced back in the Iowa caucuses, giving him the momentum to take him to the nomination. But his campaign demeanor was stiff and aloof, and he rarely smiled on the stump. His speeches were often meandering and dense to the ear. He was an easy mark for the Bush campaign to define as a politician with no core, analysts concluded, because the distant New Englander could not define himself.
But that is not the candidate voters have seen in recent weeks. Buoyed by his strong debate performances and polls showing the race deadlocked, Kerry has looked as though he has been having fun lately. Empowered by large crowds, he has conveyed energy and a hunger for the job. Kerry aides were upbeat as a string of polls showed the race a statistical dead heat. Privately they seemed convinced the trend was inching their way. "I feel good because I think we're going to win," adviser Bob Shrum said in a rare interaction with the media.
Aides described Edwards's stops in Cincinnati and Pensacola, Fla., as last-minute efforts to peel off GOP voters who are uneasy about jobs and the sluggish economy in two crucial states. An evening rally on an airport tarmac in Pensacola drew about 2,500 people in the Republican-leaning part of the state. He appeared at a late-night rally in Pompano Beach, featuring singer Jimmy Buffett. He plans to continue campaigning in Florida through much of Election Day, underscoring the importance of the state that tipped the outcome to Bush in 2000.
Kerry will wake up Tuesday morning in La Crosse, Wis., and make a brief stop at a voting center for one last pitch to the swing state. He hopes to be back in his home town of Boston for a traditional Election Day luncheon at the Union Oyster House, and of course to vote for himself.
Wagner is traveling with Edwards.