Obama in Ohio: Optimistic but Cautious

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Joe Raedle / Getty

Barack Obama arrives in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 2

As Barack Obama heads into the final 48 hours of his 21-month quest for the White House, everything about his operation exudes optimism and energy and momentum — demonstrated most dramatically at a downtown rally in Cleveland on Sunday evening, where an estimated 80,000 people sang along with Bruce Springsteen to "This Land Is Your Land." But with the finish line in sight, earlier in the day you could get a sense of the edginess that also surrounds this campaign, as Obama's plane headed toward this battleground state and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, checked his watch. "These hours could not go by fast enough for me," he said with a sigh.

Obama's stump speech still has all the soaring themes that got him this far, but with some practical advice: cheering supporters should not get complacent. "We can't afford to slow down or sit back or let up for one second," he says. With a massive turnout crucial to his calculus of the big victory that his strategists now believe to be tantalizingly close, Obama is delivering a tutorial on election mechanics at nearly every stop, exhorting people to get to the polls and vote — even if it means, as it has in early voting in Ohio, that they have to stand in line for hours to do it. "If you're in line by 5 o'clock, they've got to let you vote," he told an estimated 60,000 supporters at a rally in front of the Statehouse in Columbus, a city where statistics indicate that early voting has been overwhelmingly Democratic. In all, he made three stops in perennial battleground Ohio on Sunday, finishing with a rally in Cincinnati before heading to Jacksonville, Fla.

Obama's schedule speaks louder than any poll about the opportunities he senses in the electoral map, even as a number of late polls show the contest tightening slightly. On Saturday night, he held a rally in conservative Springfield, Mo., packing tens of thousands onto a high school football field in a part of the state that went nearly 2 to 1 for George W. Bush in the last election. On Sunday night, the campaign announced that Obama will make his final stop of the campaign on Election Day in Indiana, a state that has voted Republican in each of the last 10 presidential elections.

That's because internal Democratic polling in Indiana now indicates that Obama could have a shot at winning a state that only a few months ago seemed like a safe and easy victory for John McCain. The same could be said for Virginia and North Carolina, two other states where Obama is scheduled to stump before heading home to Chicago for an election-night rally that some are predicting could draw as many as a million people.

In the final weekend of the campaign, Obama was joined not only by his wife Michelle, but by his daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, who generally have not been out on the trail with him. "In the last couple of days, I've been just feeling good," he said a bit wistfully as he introduced his family onstage in Cleveland. "Sometimes it's lonely on the road." But their family reunion was short-lived. At the city's airport, Michelle and the girls headed for a separate charter jet that was bound for home in Chicago, where school beckoned. Obama returned to his campaign plane, and the countdown of the final hours.

See pictures of campaign gaffes here.

Read "Congressional Races to Watch '08" here.