Here’s the last part of a piece I wrote in 2004, on the day The Mrs. and I volunteered at a giant Kerry-for-president rally in Madison, one week before the election. The size of the crowd that day had a lot to do with Kerry’s traveling companion.
12:50PM: The throng is restless, as nothing has been happening for a very long time. Then suddenly, “Ladies and gentlemen, Governor Jim Doyle and Bruce Springsteen!” and the place goes up for grabs. We can’t see anything for a moment because of all the signs waving in front of us. Doyle quiets the crowd and announces that there are 80,000 people at the rally, which astounds everyone. He then begins his introduction, in which he attempts to work in as many Springsteen song titles as possible. Springsteen, standing next to him in black shirt and jeans, harmonica around his neck and guitar in hand, seems to wince at each one. Finally Doyle is done and Bruce steps forward. “I think this is the last time Governor Doyle is going to be my opening act,” he says quietly, and kicks into “The Promised Land.” I start calling friends on my cell phone to give them a taste of the show, and I am not alone.
12:55PM: Springsteen speaks, again very softly, about the responsibility of citizens in a democracy and why he’s appearing for Kerry. The crowd is dead quiet, as quiet as 80,000 people can be. For years I have heard of Springsteen’s charisma, but today I understand it. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He starts playing “No Surrender,” the Kerry campaign’s theme song.
1:00PM: When he’s finished with “No Surrender,” Springsteen says simply, “And now, the next president of the United States, John Kerry.” Although we’ve just heard the acoustic version of “No Surrender,” the full E-Street Band version blasts over the PA as Kerry comes to the stage. Bedlam ensues.
1:05PM: Kerry begins to speak. He says that in addition to the 80,000 who can see him, 20,000 more people are listening from side streets. He mentions the 8-and-0 Badgers and the World Series-winning Red Sox, and reminds us that getting out the vote will be critical. He lands on each of the themes we’ve heard him talk about in the debates and in other speeches. It occurs to me that he’s improved drastically as a campaigner in the last six weeks or so, having learned how to play the crowd, how to sell a line, how to be passionate and dignified at the same time. Although he has notes and occasionally refers to them, most of the time he walks the stage like a guy just talking.
1:40PM: “Thank you, and God bless you all!” “No Surrender” erupts from the PA again, and cannons on either side of the street begin blasting red, white, and blue confetti over the scene in front of the stage. As I wonder where you go to rent something like that, Kerry jumps off the stage and begins working the crowd.
1:50PM: The Mrs. finishes up her camera-operator responsibilities and we’re done. We head back up West Washington Avenue, which has cleared surprisingly quickly given the size of the crowd. At the top of West Wash near the Capitol Square, four Nader supporters try to get noticed, but largely fail.
2:45PM: The Mrs. and I sit in a bar on State Street waiting for our lunch order. After a long silence she says, “I’m nervous about this one,” and she’s not talking about lunch. “So am I,” I say. Kerry says this is the most important election of our lifetimes, but I’d go further and say it’s the most important one since the Civil War era, and there are less than five days to go. No one knows if this appearance will make a difference in Wisconsin—the 100,000 in attendance are most likely already converted (although certainly a few thousand came to hear Bruce). The spectacle was staged largely for the benefit of those watching on television both here and in the other 10 swing states, in case those undecided voters we keep hearing about are still out there. I have decided they’re mythical, like unicorns. What we have to do now is make sure the whole 100,000 casts a ballot on Tuesday, and brings their friends.
Kerry won Wisconsin on Election Night. I forget how he did nationally.