Upbeat -- but still cautious

Finnegan is a Times staff writer.

Barack Obama was telling tens of thousands of people how much Vice President Dick Cheney admires John McCain when rain started to fall from the nighttime sky.

“You notice what happened when I started talking about Dick Cheney?” Obama deadpanned.

Obama was upbeat as he traveled across Ohio on the last Sunday before the presidential election. He has long peppered his speeches at rallies with one-liners, usually at McCain’s expense. But on this day, Obama dwelled on them a little longer, punctuating his jokes with chuckles.


“In the last couple of days, I’ve just been feeling good,” he told the crowd at the Cleveland Mall, a public park in the city’s downtown.

Part of the good cheer, the Democrat said, came from the presence of his wife, Michelle, and the couple’s two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, on a weekend swing across Colorado, Missouri and Ohio. But there’s little doubt that polls showing the Illinois senator is favored to defeat McCain, after a grueling 21-month campaign, also played a role.

Also helpful were the tens of thousands of supporters cheering and chanting his name at each of his three Ohio stops Sunday -- Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

In Cleveland, Bruce Springsteen was singing to a crowd that filled a plaza surrounded by skyscrapers when Obama’s motorcade rolled up at nightfall.

Performing solo with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, the rock star led the crowd in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Afterward, he strummed his guitar as he denounced the “thoughtless, reckless and morally adrift administration” of President Bush, and called America “a repository for people’s hopes” around the world.

“It remains a house of dreams, and a thousand George Bushes and a thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down,” he said, calling the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the economic crisis their legacy.

“From the beginning, there’s been something in Sen. Obama that’s called upon our better angels,” Springsteen said. “And I suspect it’s because he’s had a life where he’s had to so often call upon his better angels. And we’re going to need all the angels we can get on the hard road ahead. So Sen. Obama, help us rebuild our house.”

Springsteen went on to sing “The Rising,” the song that plays at Obama rallies when the candidate walks onstage. The singer then introduced Obama and his family.

“Give it up for Bruce Springsteen,” Obama told the crowd.

Speaking moments later about his pledge to cut taxes for the middle class, Obama asked those who make less than “a quarter million dollars a year” to raise their hands, as he does at every stop.

“Bruce, don’t raise your hand now,” Obama said with a glance offstage. “Bruce, you gotta keep your hand down.”

Obama went on to poke fun at McCain for casting himself as a champion of Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man who spoke out against the Democrat’s tax plan. Obama insisted that “99.9% of plumbers” would get a tax cut under his proposal.

“Don’t be hoodwinked,” he said. “Don’t be bamboozled. Don’t fall for the okey-doke.”

Obama aides said he was not taking the appearance of impending victory for granted.

“We are totally focused on winning the election at this point,” said Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass. “This is not a done deal.”

Obama was careful to say as much. Still, at the end of the speech, he echoed some of Springsteen’s more expansive language.

“If you will stand with me and fight by my side, then I promise you this: We will not just win Ohio, we will win this general election, and together, you and I, we’re going to change this country, and we will change the world,” he said. “A rising is coming.”

And as he left the stage, Obama broke into a few dance steps before he waved goodbye.