VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — If the rally here on the southern Virginia coast proved anything, it’s that Sen. John McCain doesn’t need to worry about his base.
When McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took the stage along with their respective spouses, they were greeted by several minutes of wild cheering and applause. But McCain gave no indication that he has any new ideas for stopping his recent slide in the polls.
After Palin gave her standard stump speech, McCain delivered an address that many in the media had hyped as an attempt at a comeback. But it largely recycled many elements of his previous speeches and reiterated many of the bullet points in the “Issues” section on his campaign website.
In an effort to put a bit more daylight between himself and the White House’s current occupant, McCain took a thinly veiled jab at the presidency of George W. Bush:
We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change. The hour is late; our troubles are getting worse; our enemies watch. We have to act immediately. We have to change direction now. We have to fight.
Fighting was the theme of the speech. He leveled with his supporters when he acknowledged that he is trailing in the polls. He also tooka shot at reporters and pundits, saying the national media have “written off” his campaign. That drew loud boos directed at the press section.
But when reporters, laughing about being heckled, looked their antagonists in the eyes, there were some smiles among the hecklers.
The only other boos — sustained and thunderous — came when McCain mentioned his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.
Still, there were no nasty comments from the audience that have attracted so much attention lately. There were none of the personal attacks on Obama that have characterized McCain’s recent speeches. Neither he nor Palin mentioned William Ayers, the former Weatherman.
But McCain was twice interrupted by chants of “Nobama! Nobama!”
McCain closed his speech with a call-to-arms that echoed his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:
I know what fear feels like. It’s a thief in the night who robs your strength.
I know what hopelessness feels like. It’s an enemy who defeats your will.
I felt those things once before. I will never let them in again. I’m an American. And I choose to fight.
Don’t give up hope. Be strong. Have courage. And fight.
Fight for a new direction for our country.
Fight for what’s right for America.
Fight to clean up the mess of corruption, infighting and selfishness in Washington.
Fight to get our economy out of the ditch and back in the lead.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children’s future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.
Now, let’s go win this election and get this country moving again.
Inspirational words meant to rile up the crowd, but the audience really didn’t really start cheering until midwy through the “Fight” lines, almost as if it didn’t recognize that this was the part of the speech Tthat was supposed to get them excited. Then the audience became so loud that one could only faintly hear McCain speaking.
The “comeback” speech — a variant of which he will probably deliver frequently in coming days — is unlikely to change the trajectory of his campaign in any significant way. McCain can only hope that the audience’s uncertainty about what was intended to be a big, rousing finish does not become a metaphor for his campaign.