MANASSAS, Va. -- Once more droves of supporters poured in, chants of "Yes, we can" pervaded the night's cool autumn air, and for the last time Barack Obama took center stage on the eve of a much-anticipated presidential election, as 21 months of campaigning closed here in northern Virginia.
"Let me start by noting, Virginia, that this is our last rally," Obama said late Monday night in front of more than 85,000 people at the Prince William Fairgrounds. "This is the last rally of a campaign that began nearly two years ago.
"After decades of broken politics in Washington, eight years of failed policies of George Bush, 21 months of campaigning, we are less than one day away from bringing back faith in America."
Just five months ago Obama was in the northern Virginia town of Bristow kicking off his presidential campaign, having defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Monday night, Obama returned for one last push in a state that he said was necessary to win the presidency. During his speech, Obama repeatedly stressed the importance of the Commonwealth -- deadlocked between the two candidates in the latest statewide polls -- and its 13 electoral votes, which haven't been awarded to a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
Prince William County and Loudoun County, both once reliably Republican areas of northern Virginia, have undergone extensive growth and demographic changes in recent years. Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine won both counties in his 2005 bid for the governorship, and Democratic U.S. Senator Jim Webb carried both in 2006. Tuesday night, Virginia will be the first swing state to report its returns, but both northern Virginia counties are notoriously late in reporting results.
"Tim was one of the first to endorse us in this unlikely journey," Obama said of Virginia's governor. "We stood on the steps of Richmond, at the scene of the old Confederacy. And it signifies so much for us to be together here in the Commonwealth of Virginia."
Monday marked a day of finality for Obama, both with his campaign and his 86-year-old grandmother, who died early Monday morning from cancer, just one day before seeing whether Obama could win the presidency. Despite her death, Obama continued his campaign stops in Jacksonville, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and Virginia.
Obama thanked supporters' outpouring of condolences and prayers for his grandmother and family, an acknowledgment that the 85,000-strong audience responded to with scattered shouts of, "We love you, Barack."
It was a crowd that represented many: young and old, black and white.
"He's what America is right now," said Stacy Elshami of Alexandria, Va., a middle-aged white woman, a demographic that Obama has struggled to attract. "It's not a single-thought kind of country. It's made up of all kinds of people, from all different places, combining to make this a really strong country."
Obama arrived more than an hour and a half later than his scheduled start time, and stuck mostly to his talking points, railing against Republican nominee John McCain's economic policies.
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"Tomorrow, at this defining moment in history, Virginia, you can give this country the change that we need," Obama said. "It starts here in Virginia. It starts here in Manassas."
Contact staff writer Dan Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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