US President George W. Bush, fighting to hold on to the White House, campaigned furiously on Monday at raucous rallies across the breadth of the US before he was due to arrive in the small hours of Election Day in the silence of his central Texas ranch.
From 6:30am Monday, when the president's motorcade left a downtown Cincinnati illuminated only by street lamps, to 1:40am yesterday, when Marine One was due to touch down in the darkness of Prairie Chapel Ranch, Bush logged 4,100km and 19 consecutive hours at seven rallies in six states, five of them too close to call -- and all essential to a victory should he lose Florida.
"That finish line is in sight," Bush told reporters as he arrived in Pittsburgh, his second stop of the day. "And I just want to assure you I've got the energy, the optimism and the enthusiasm to cross the line."
At each stop, Bush exhorted the crowd to vote in an election in which the winner is almost certain to be the man who turns out more of his own party's supporters.
"I'm here to ask for your help," Bush said at his first stop in an airport hangar in rural Wilmington, Ohio, where Marine One roared to a halt soon after dawn. "You get your friends and neighbors to go to the polls. Find our fellow Republicans, wise independents, and discerning Democrats and tell them, if they want a safer America and a stronger America and a better America, to put me and Dick Cheney back in office."
In Milwaukee, his third stop of the day, Bush rallied supporters only a few blocks and an hour apart from his opponent, Senator John Kerry. Later, parts of the two candidates' motorcades crossed paths near the airport. The campaigns were physically so close that a bus of White House reporters drove right past Kerry's campaign plane, which was parked on the other side of the airport from Air Force One.
For the last rally of the day, Bush returned home to Texas, into a jammed sports arena at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where his wife, Laura, went to college, for an 10:30pm rally filled with thousands of young people waving red and white "W" signs.
It was a rarity for Bush, who is usually in bed by that hour. What was even more of a rarity was that Bush was running late, leaving more than 5,000 eager supporters screaming, and everyone from Governor Rick Perry to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to extol the president's character and bring the crowd to its feet by denouncing Kerry as a "Massachusetts liberal" too weak to take command of a war in Iraq or against terrorism.
Earlier in the day Bush's aides, after asserting for weeks that they were confident and calm, finally admitted in the last marathon stretch that they were on edge. But they insisted the president was serene.
"Everybody's nervous," said Mark McKinnon, the president's chief media strategist. "He has a total Zen attitude about it."
McKinnon said Bush was playing a running game of gin rummy throughout the day with Karl Rove, the powerful White House political adviser, and other longtime aides in the conference room on Air Force One, and that he felt he had done everything he had to do to win.
"He knew he had to earn it, not inherit it," McKinnon said.
He added: "I think both campaigns will go out swinging and say we left it all on the field. They ran tough and hard and we ran tough and hard."