(YORK, PA.) - For someone who's covered Barack Obama since late 2007, a brief stop with John McCain's campaign is illuminating. The differences are striking.
Whereas Obama's events are multi-cultural extravaganzas, McCain's are almost entirely white. Obama draws crowds of all ages. McCain's crowd trends older. Obama's crowds are often huge. McCain's are more intimate.
Patriotic themes dominate at McCain events, as you might expect of a candidate whose life story is all but written in red white and blue. A huge flag dominated the background at York, Pa., on Tuesday. A large video screen shows images of McCain the fighter pilot, along with pictures of Teddy Roosevelt.
On this occasion, the Arizona senator rode his campaign bus right into the hall. Obama's never pulled that as far as I can remember. Off jumped McCain, his constant companion, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Ct., and former Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pa., always on the list of possible vice presidential candidates.
McCain often appears halting or uneasy on television, but in person on this day he was pumped and relaxed at the same time, easily playing off questions from the crowd and hitting the right lines with the right emphasis. That may have been because this was said to be one of the largest audiences he's ever drawn. Upwards of 3,000 people were on hand in the Toyota Arena.
Now 3,000 people is a good crowd, no question. But with Obama's campaign, a crowd of a similar size would often be considered a failure of the advance staff and someone might well get fired. Whatever, McCain was energized.
And why not? He's had a good run – able to somehow turn Obama's overseas trip into a negative, then having the crisis in Georgia erupt in time for him to display his national security chops while Obama is vacationing in Hawaii.
No wonder he was smiling as he boarded the Straight Talk Express and headed back onto the road.