Candidates hit swing states on eve of election

With just hours left in the presidential race, Barack Obama and John McCain put out their final appeals to voters as their industry supporters nervously worked phones, canvassed precincts or stumped to get out votes.

Both candidates made election-eve appearances in an unusual place: the halftime of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” with Chris Berman querying them on such things as what they would change about sports.

As unconventional as it was, it spoke to the great lengths that the campaigns have gone to reach undecided voters, particularly in the homestretch. McCain’s weekend appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” spoofing Obama’s infomercial as well as his own campaign’s foibles, generated the show’s second highest overnight ratings since 1997. Only Sarah Palin’s cameo two weeks ago drew more viewers.

Celebrities fanned out across the country to campaign for candidates and get out the vote. Patricia Heaton was on the trail in Indiana for McCain, adding to an array of names who have turned out for the candidate in recent days including Robert Duvall and Robert Davi. On behalf of the Obama campaign, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs rallied voters in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Some surrogates created a stir. According to CBS News, Hank Williams Jr. started the National Anthem at a rally for Sarah Palin in Colorado Springs, Colo., by saying, “You know, I’m usually at ‘Monday Night Football’ tonight, but Colorado, this is a lot more important tonight. Join me now in our national — you know, that, uh, Mr. Obama’s not real crazy about, we’re singing it right now.”

There are big plans in the works for election-night parties. In Los Angeles, an eclectic group of industry figures, including Alan Ladd, Zooey Deschanel, Richard Donner, Sarah Silverman and Lauren Shuler Donner, are among the co-hosts of an Obama campaign and California Democratic Party celebration at the Century Plaza Hotel. Hollywood Republicans who are part of a group called Friends of Abe plan to gather for a party at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. In New York, Harvey Weinstein and Georgette Mosbacher are co-hosting a party at Public House, and CNN and the Huffington Post’s 23/6 also are planning events.

McCain is planning to appear at an election-night party at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix. One of his key Hollywood supporters, MGM chief exec Harry Sloan, is also planning to attend.

The biggest crowds are expected in Chicago. There the Obama campaign has set up a stage, tents and security checkpoints for a massive rally in Grant Park, where the candidate and Joe Biden will appear later in the evening. Planning to attend are music executive Nicole Avant and Wild Brain CEO Charles Rivkin, co-chairs of Obama’s finance team in Southern California, along with others who have raised money for the candidate in the entertainment industry. Talkshow host Oprah Winfrey, whose show has been going live this week, is also supposed to be there. Obama supporters Will Smith and Tina Fey are scheduled to appear on her show Thursday.

Further down the ballot in California, much attention was being paid to the fate of Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage in the state. Magic Johnson taped a robocall against the measure that was aimed at the African-American community.

Hoping to maximize a final advertising blitz, the No on 8 campaign collected last minute campaign contributions from David Geffen, who donated $100,000, and Cindy and Alan Horn, who chipped in $50,000. Fund-raising had picked up in recent weeks after criticism that not enough people in the industry had stepped forward to give to the effort to defeat the measure. Studios, however, have stayed out of the campaign, in contrast to Silicon Valley companies like Apple and Google, which have contributed money or released statements opposing the ban.

More than likely, the last word that most voters will get from candidates and their surrogates will come in the form of advertisements. The election has produced record spending for television ads, with more than $1 billion going to ad agencies and broadcasters.

And as the clock runs out on the presidential campaign, the ads are appearing incessantly in battleground states. According to Campaign Media Analysis, more than 10,000 ads are airing across the country each day these last few weeks.

As might be expected in a close race, dubious claims and charges in the ads have been rising. The good news is, most media outlets have been vigilant in sorting out the relatively small truths from the distortions, according to a nonpartisan consumer group that analyzes political ads.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political Fact Check, whose website FactCheck.org monitors the accuracy of claims made by politicos or their surrogates. “Most news organizations have been more aggressive on finding out the truth of these ads than any other time I can remember.”

APFC is part of the U. of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, which says it accepts no donations from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. Before joining APFC, Jackson was a political journalist for 34 years.

Unlike in previous presidential elections, the quantity and intensity of ads peaked “about two weeks ago,” Jackson said. With unprecedented numbers of voters voting early, “it makes no sense to hold back ads for the last few days. If you do, you’ll have missed a million voters or more,” Jackson added.

“It’s been surprising that in the last few days things have been so negative,” said APFC deputy director Viveca Novak. “Usually, things are more positive right before the election.”

Some ads have been flat-out “sleazy,” as FactCheck.org has reported. One recent anti-Obama ad tries to link a leader of the 9/11 attackers to the Dem nominee’s policy on illegal immigrants. Not a shred of truth in it, the website said, adding that it’s “one of the sleaziest attacks we’ve seen.” Sponsoring the ad is an independent group called the National Republican Trust, which FactCheck.org found has no formal connection to the GOP.

Most recent attacks on Obama have hammered him on character, particularly through past associations such as with William Ayers, Novak said.

The Obama campaign has also been putting out its own ads that have “a de minimis relationship with reality, if that,” the site said. Case in point: Obama’s ads alleging McCain would cut Medicare and Medicaid. “It’s utter crap,” Jackson said.

While the media have done a generally good job of teasing out fact from fiction, “The question is, will that survive the election?” Jackson added. Media doggedness on the accuracy of political claims tends to be limited to elections, Jackson said. “And that’s too bad because we’re going to be seeing issue advertising on things like climate change and health care reform.”

Jackson said he hopes the media will stay on top of such ads, “but I don’t have a lot of optimism.”

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