11/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

McCain Volunteers Finally Roused In Northern Virginia

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Saturday afternoon John McCain dropped into the McCain-Palin field office here and gave what will surely go down in history as the briefest pep talk ever delivered to troops on edge. (Earlier in the day a McCain aide let slip that "We're not doing well.")

Before McCain dropped in, I was taking a few exterior photos of the field or "victory" office when a woman wearing a dark blue Security uniform walked over and declared, "You can't take pictures here, it's a public building."

"Sure I can, it's a public building," I said, and with that she turned and walked away. (Good news, Star Wars fans: the Obe-Wan Kenobi telepathy trick really works.)

The McCain-Palin office in Arlington is located on the ground floor of a high-rise building in a neighborhood known as Crystal City. I peered inside the huge glass windows and saw something totally unexpected: rows and rows of people on phone banks. Dozens of people. It was completely unlike the other McCain victory offices I have visited, where just five or six people were working the phones. This looked like a scene straight out of The Front Page. I aimed my Nikon at the window when suddenly the image inside the lens went blank. Looking up, I glimpsed a young man running from window to window, closing all the shades. Why? What didn't he want me to photograph?

Ten minutes later, an amiable Secret Service agent said to me, "We're securing the area, so I'm afraid you'll have to move."

I extended my hand and said as winningly as possible, "Hi, I'm Diane Tucker. I write for Huffington Post."

With a wide grin he said, "Okay, you can stand near that pole, but don't poke me with an umbrella." As I stood in the crisp night air pondering which of my colleagues had poked a Secret Service agent with an umbrella, McCain dashed into the victory office, said a few words, then left with his motorcade. The whole shebang took about three minutes. Wham, bam, thank you... well, you know.

Maybe McCain wished he could have hung in there a little longer, but in fairness he had spent most of the afternoon in Woodbridge, Va., speaking at an outdoor rally. That crowd was estimated at fewer than 10,000 people. According to recent polls, the candidate's prospects for winning Virginia are slipping away. What's more, his strategy for the state was beginning to be questioned by some of his aides. "I hate that we did that Robo Call thing," a young McCain staffer told me on Saturday. "I don't think automated phone calls work."

Virginia Volunteers Kick It Up A Notch

Bloggers had one word for the activity level inside McCain-Palin offices in Virginia a week ago: "dead."

But this past weekend, offices in Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties were humming with activity. Neighbors were stopping by for lawn signs, teenagers were being dropped off by their parents for two hours of volunteer work, Moms for McCain were working the phones. Families were everywhere. Surprisingly absent: people John McCain's age. The mood: resolute.


Last Friday, the Daily Kos drove to bellwether Loudoun County hoping to find the Sterling victory office but struck out because there was no signage on the building. The next day, you could see their big new sign from the highway. About 50 people canvassed door-to-door in Loudoun County on Saturday; another 50 went out on Sunday.


In equally prized Prince William County, more than 150 canvassers knocked on doors on Saturday according to officials at the Fairfax office, whose small reception area was jammed with volunteers. Along with the usual bumper stickers and door hangers, handouts included a blog on preventing African American genocide written by ret. Army General Jerry Curry, and an article by Dr. Alveda C. King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that explained why African Americans should vote for the Republican.

McCain-Palin volunteers said they are targeting both undecideds and the party faithful. "Everyone is working hard, with both groups," said volunteer Sally Atwater, wife of former Republican Party Chairman Lee Atwater, who passed away in 1991. Atwater was volunteering in the Arlington office, phoning Missouri supporters to attend a rally, and Colorado military vets to get out there and vote for John McCain.

OVERHEARD Inside The Northern Virginia Victory Offices:

"Obama wants to subsidize everything. It's scary."

"It's all about service, man. What has Obama ever done except vote for left-wing legislation?"

"John McCain understands national security and that's important, because things can turn on a dime."

"Do you want higher taxes? It's hard enough now to make mortgage and tuition payments."

"Utilities are twice as high today as they were six months ago. McCain will do something about it."

"I can't stand Obama's view on partial-birth abortion. It's disgusting."

"That stuff about Obama being a self-made man isn't true. His grandparents had money."

"Democrats have Congress. We need a Republican president to balance things out."

"Virginia is still in play."