Rebecca someone is unloading groceries from a car. But not too many cos she’s poor. Having moved to the country so she could send her kids to private schools, her husband had some sort of awful meniscus injury — can that be right? — and now they’re struggling.

“I just want things to be better,” she says to the camera, “just an end to everyday life being chaos.”

We’re in a bar in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, the state capital, a town so boring that it had to stage the three mile island nuclear near-disaster to get someone to pay attention. It’s an all-black place, including myself, the bags under my eyes having now spread to cover my face. On the TV above the bar, Barack Obama’s half hour message is just starting, on NBC, CBS, MSNBC, Univision (Spanish) and a coupla others. It’s on before the World Series (baseball final), and McCain has tried to spin it that Obama is delaying the baseball. In fact it’s merely replaced broadcast of the pre-game entertainment — so any grizzled grand final veteran will see the logic instantly. Anything anything that pre-empts that nadir of human existence, that unlife, has got to be an improvement.

No-one’s watching though. In Pennsylvania to find a black Republican … man you’d have to find some guy at the McCain office, too neat, in a three piece suit, with a thin moustache.

“Why’s he doing this?” someone asks.

“Hell if I know.”

“When’s the game?”

We’re into in, and there’s the story of an old black couple, who were looking forward to retirement. He’s playing a mean blues guitar. Then the story: she got ill, the retirement wouldn’t cover it, he had to go back to work as a “sales associate” — i.e. a paper bag stuffer in a supermarket, in a denim uniform meant for a 16-year-old kid in his first job. The sense not merely of poverty, but if humiliation, is raw and real.

After that Obama, went into a series of itemised proposals about his budget. And then into stuff about his mum.

People are watching it now, the show draws you in. It’s slick beyond slick, quiet music, perfect shots, fantastic subtle cutting. It’s being called an informercial, but it’s a real movie.

“She died really quickly from cancer, it was a shock … it was a reminder that life is short.”

That’s the argument he’s using to explain his neophyte status — he had to run fast because he knows how short life is. From that it jumps to a white couple in Ohio, the killing ground of manufacture. They’re queuing up at a cutprice diner, the stewed steak being slopped into a paper container, the David Lynchesque gleam on the gravy, the obscenity of reduced circumstances.

In the bar people are watching. It’s alluring even if you’re rusted on. No-one’s asked to change the channel.

We get various governors and senators praising him, and Joe Biden saying how impressed he was by the way he worked with Richard Lugar on a nuclear weapons bill, and etc.

Then more stories, and a bit, live, from the Florida speech he’s giving tonight, before he speaks with Bill Clinton … and we’re out.

Was it powerful? Not for these folks, but no-one in inner-city Philly needs to be told about deprivation. But it wasn’t aimed at them obviously. It was aimed at these last few undecideds, at waverers, at the crowd of undecideds who, on FOX earlier, Frank Luntz had practically yelled at “make up your minds!!!”

Was it worth it, the pundits asked. The point for the Obama campaign is, it don’t matter too much. They have so much money they couldn’t even spend it all in the last week if they tried. At about seven million in fees, and I reckon a million in production costs, it is really aimed at 2% of waverers, and maybe half a percent, a quarter or so of the undecideds. It’s coming in at about ten grand a stray Florida voter. It’s part of leaving nothing to chance.

That’s why the Obama campaign is in Pennyslvania, duking it out, even though it seems like they’re 10 points clear. Don’t be complacent, don’t fail to cover the bases, don’t be, don’t be don’t be, Democrats.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaigns — there’s about three of them — are simultaneously running the idea that Obama is a dangerous subversive who shouldn’t be near power, and also that he should be President later. “Barack Obama — not ready yet”. That is so desperate, my God.

It’s like that terrible scene in Very Bad Things when the five white Vegas-visiting a-seholes, having accidentally murdered a stripper, then have to kill the black security guard sent to investigate. Someone stabs him in the heart with a corkscrew and he bleeds to death in the bathroom, yelling “pleeeeeeease … pleeeeeease”. Why not just yell “John McCain pleeeeeeeease. Pleeaaaaaaase. Oh pleeeeeeeeeassssse.”

Meanwhile Joe the Plumber has got a record deal and an agent, the new “terrorist” — Rashed Khalidi — they’ve associated Obama with, was given a half million dollars by a committee chaired by, um, John McCain, and Sarah Palin says she’s “not in this for nothing” — i.e. it’s lost but sets her up for ’12. And the McCain campaign is running ads in Arizona. His home state. Where his margin is down to 5%. 5%. 5%.

Almost too weary to do it, I try a couple of vox pops along the bar — in the ads, tapping the laptop, juiced off the Holiday Inn wifi next door, having attracted some attention.

And I’ll spare you the chaff, but this…

“Voting this year?”

“Man I hate this sh-t. I hate it.” (pause). “I’m working for Obama all day Tuesday.”

An end to life being chaos?

It’s all going ballistic …

Peter Fray

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