Kerry: Vote is 'Choice of a Lifetime'

Times Staff Writer

Sen. John F. Kerry told supporters today that "the hopes of the whole world are on the line" in Tuesday's presidential election as he began wrapping up his campaign with stops in Florida and battleground states of the Midwest.

"This is a kind of magical moment that we get to in the last hours of the most blessed gift on the face of the planet — our democracy, your vote," Kerry told several thousand supporters who stood for hours in a cold driving rain to hear him speak at a downtown Milwaukee rally. "You get to choose and change the direction of this country."

"Tomorrow," he said, "the choice of a lifetime is on that ballot."

On Iraq, jobs, education, healthcare and other matters, the Democratic nominee summed up his long-standing attacks on President Bush's policies, followed in each case by pledges to change course.

"What we need is a fresh start and new credibility for this country," shouted Kerry, who wore his Boston Red Sox cap and mustard barn jacket. He stood alongside his grown daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, drenched by a downpour, who were hugging one another to keep warm.

The crowd, sopping wet and waving soggy campaign signs, chanted, "One more day! One more day!"

"You guys look so wonderful, wet and bundled, and all huddled up," he said.

Kerry's Milwaukee stop was part of a final campaign day set to stretch 20 hours or more, starting with an early-morning All Saints Day mass in Orlando, Fla., and scheduled to end around 2 a.m. Tuesday in La Crosse, Wis.

In all, Kerry planned to hit four states that he and Bush have each fought hard to carry as they try to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to prevail on Tuesday: Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

"I've been coming to Florida enough that my brother Cam is thinking of running for governor," Kerry joked at an airport tarmac rally in Orlando.

In a final illustration of the narrow geography of the campaign map, Kerry's entourage watched Air Force One take off from the Milwaukee airport after the president's own campaign stop here.

Bush lost Wisconsin in 2000 by fewer than 6,000 votes, and one of Kerry's top challenges on Tuesday is to stop him from winning it this time. La Crosse, Kerry's final stop of the campaign, is in a rural western region of Wisconsin that Bush lost in 2000 but hopes to win this time with appeals to culturally conservative voters.

In Milwaukee, Kerry played up local appeals, mentioning the Green Bay Packers' victory Sunday in a football game against the Washington Redskins.

"Every presidential election since 1936, when the Redskins lose, the incumbent loses, so I want to thank the Packers and Wisconsin for helping me out," he told the cheering crowd. "And in 1960 it was Wisconsin that lifted John Kennedy over the top into the presidency, and I'm counting on you in 2004."

When the cheers faded, Kerry hollered: "Wet as you may be, cold as you may be, are you ready to move America in a new direction?" Following a roar of applause, he asked, "Are you ready to put common sense back into the decisions that affect our lives? Are you ready to put America back to work?"

Aboard Kerry's plane, the candidate's advisors took pains to appear upbeat despite polls showing the race dead even. Kerry strategist Bob Shrum told reporters, "We're going to win Wisconsin," "I think we'll win Pennsylvania," and "In Florida, the momentum is with us."

"I feel good, because I think we're going to win," he said.

To energize crowds, Kerry's campaign booked pop stars to sing at three of his rallies: Stevie Wonder in Detroit, Jon Bon Jovi in Milwaukee and Bruce Springsteen in Cleveland.

From La Crosse, Kerry plans to fly home Tuesday morning to Boston. He will vote there at the Massachusetts statehouse, up the street from his Beacon Hill townhouse. Following his election-day tradition, the Massachusetts senator also plans to have lunch, including clam chowder, at Union Oyster House near the Faneuil Hall marketplace.

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