As his nearly two-year campaign for the presidency came down to a 20-hour last lap from Florida to Wisconsin and east and west across the Great Lakes, Senator John Kerry was halfway through his stump speech under a driving rain in Milwaukee on Monday when he stopped and surveyed his drenched but dauntless crowd.
"You guys look so wonderful, wet and bundled and all huddled up," he told thousands of Wisconsin Democrats who smiled at him from under slickers and garbage bags and matted hair and spongy Kerry-Edwards signs now melted to their heads.
President George W. Bush had just rallied warm, dry Republicans indoors a few blocks away, and Kerry's motorcade got an eyeful of Air Force One as it ascended just as he pulled into town. But the sight from the stage set up at the corner of State and Water streets -- emphasis on the water -- had the senator suddenly sentimental.
"You're the best!" he shouted.
He was headed next to Detroit, where Stevie Wonder opened for him to a booming arena crowd of Teamsters and auto workers, and on to Cleveland, where an election-eve performance by Bruce Springsteen drew tens of thousands. But Kerry seemed most moved in Milwaukee, as the crowd, index fingers jabbing in the air, began to thunder: "One more day! One more day!"
Kerry smiled and took it all in.
"Unbelievable," he said. "I tell you, it may be one more day, but I promise you this: I will never forget this rally in the rain here in Milwaukee. Unbelievable. You're unbelievable!"
From Orlando, Florida, to Milwaukee to Detroit to Cleveland to Toledo, Ohio, and back to La Crosse, Wisconsin. This was how Kerry was spending the last hours of the last day before the election that friends said he had dreamed of his entire life.
On this last day, he surrounded himself with family -- his daughters Alexandra and Vanessa got soaked along with him in Milwaukee, and his sister Peggy was with him in Florida -- while his aides buoyed one another.
When he told thousands in Detroit that the Big Three in the administration's eyes weren't Ford, Chrysler and General Motors but "Halliburton, Enron and the drug companies," the crowd filled the Joe Louis Arena with boos.
"Wow," Kerry said. "Rather than booing -- are you ready to change it?" They made clear they were.
Kerry arrived in Toledo shortly after midnight, and gave his first speech of election day to almost a thousand people in an airport hangar. Several thousand more people outside could not get in.
"I don't know if George Bush is at home in bed in Crawford," Kerry said, "but I am here fighting for every single vote."
In Detroit, he picked out a handmade sign saying "Nick Kids Pick Kerry 57%" -- and announced that the children's poll conducted by the Nickelodeon cable channel had "never been wrong."
And in front of some 50,000 people in Cleveland, Springsteen handed Kerry his guitar pick and told him to take it to the Oval Office. But it was in Milwaukee that Kerry seemed most relaxed, most self-deprecating, most glad and grateful to have made the long journey that was at last coming to a close. He jokingly threatened to give one of his stentorian speeches.
And had it not been for the rain, he might have seemed almost misty-eyed.
In the middle of the street, Alissa Gonyea, 33, a kindergarten teacher, held her nephew, Connor Erickson, 8, to her waist to keep the rain from soaking through his clothes.