With his wife, Cindy, left, behind him, Republican presidential candidate John McCain prepares to deliver his 20-minute address to a near capacity crowd at UM’s BankUnited Center.

McCain Holds
Late-Night Rally at UM

University of Miami student Seth Levy says he likes to keep an open mind when it comes to deciding which presidential candidate he will vote for.

Late Sunday, with less than two days before the election, the 21-year-old entrepreneurship major still hadn’t decided whether he would cast a ballot for Barack Obama or John McCain.

Today, Levy might have a better idea of how he will vote on Tuesday. He, along with several other UM students, volunteered at McCain’s Road to Victory Rally at the University's BankUnited Center on Sunday night.

The students, many of whom would be voting in a presidential election for the first time, worked as ushers and guides, informing members of the press where they could pick up media credentials and fielding questions from McCain supporters who began lining up for the rally some five hours before the Arizona senator’s arrival. Once their volunteer duties were completed, the students received prime seating close to the stage.

Grammy-winning Cuban-American singer Albita energizes the crowd with an electrifying performance before McCain’s arrival.

Before McCain joined the crowd, a Carnival-like atmosphere filled the 7,000-seat arena. Latin musical groups and singers, including Grammy-winning Cuban-American Albita, performed, as the thousands of McCain supporters were singing, dancing, and waving signs that read “Cubans for McCain,” “Cindy, Our First Lady,” “Country First” and “Veterans for John McCain.” Senator Mel Martinez and Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart also spoke to the crowd.

When McCain arrived and took the stage at 12:40 a.m., his 20-minute address covered a range of election hot-topic issues, including taxes, the economic bailout package, government spending, energy, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and foreign policy.

“We need to bring real change to Washington, and we need to fight for it,” McCain said to an energetic audience. “I’ve been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and I will fight to take America in a new direction.”

Addressing energy concerns, promising to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, invest in alternative energy sources such as clean coal, and implement “environmentally safe offshore drilling.”

Claiming Obama’s proposed economic plan would hurt the economy and kill jobs, McCain said as president, he would cut taxes for working families and keep U.S. businesses from going overseas.

“I will veto every single pork-barreled bill that comes across my desk. We’re not going to spend $750 billion bailing out Wall Street,” said the senator in a reference to the recent economic recovery plan passed by Congress.

With millions of homes in foreclosure and the housing market in a downturn, particularly in Florida, McCain told the audience he has “a plan to fix our housing market, keep home values up and people in their homes.”

McCain supporters who carried a variety of banners and signs were plentiful at the rally.

The issues addressed by McCain hit close to home for UM student Glenda Johnson, 18, an international studies major and a member of the UM College Republicans who also volunteered at the rally. National security, the economy, and social issues are among the topics Johnson said she follows closely and wanted to hear McCain address on Sunday.

Johnson, who is from Phoenix, Arizona, made sure she took part in her first presidential election, voting by absentee ballot. She is no stranger to campaign rhetoric and the myriad political debating that has taken place this election season, often engaging in friendly argument with friends on who will make a better president, “but mostly on where we ourselves stand on certain issues.”

Three UM student leaders—Brandon Gross, UM Student Government president; Harout Samra, a UM law student and chairman of the Florida College Republicans; and Maria Pelfrey, chairman of the UM College Republicans—met privately backstage with McCain before he addressed the audience.
UM didn’t learn until Friday that McCain would be coming. Earlier on Sunday, the Arizona senator went stumping for votes at a rally in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, as he continued a campaign blitz of key battleground states. That the University didn’t get official word of the Republican presidential candidate’s visit until only two days before his arrival “is the nature of the election at such a late stage,” said Rudy Fernandez, vice president of government affairs, adding that the institution earlier this year invited both candidates to campus. Obama spoke at a rally at the BankUnited Center on September 19.

“It’s a unique experience,” Fernandez said of Obama’s and McCain’s UM appearances. “Very few universities can claim to have had both presidential candidates on campus conducting rallies. We’re blessed to have had both of them here.”

The candidates’ rallies, drawing teeming crowds at the BankUnited Center, were part A Dialogue for Democracy, a lineup of politically themed events launched by the University at the beginning of the fall semester. Noted political writer and analyst George Will, pollster John Zogby, husband-and-wife political strategists Mary Matalin and James Carville, and panel discussions on health care, energy, race, and other topics were part of the series, which gave UM students “the opportunity to experience and participate in the Democratic election process and express their views and opinions on the issues facing our country,” said Richard Walker, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Said Levy, “UM staging these events shows that the University cares about what we think."

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