Sandusky preps for McCain visit

SANDUSKY American flag banners are draped along the railings of the Gazebo at Washington Park. Soon
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

American flag banners are draped along the railings of the Gazebo at Washington Park. Soon cheering crowds will clap vigorously as the famous bus rolls into town. Secret Service agents will roam the park, taking orders from earpieces.

Then the man recognizable from countless commercials, photographs and television appearances will take the podium. His words will be remembered by local residents for years to come.

Another page in Sandusky's history books will be written today.

CHECK BACK ON THIS SITE FOR LIVE VIDEO OF McCAIN VISIT

Sen. John McCain -- as in possibly-the-next-U.S.-president John McCain -- visits Washington Park this afternoon. GOP officials say visitors should arrive no later than 1 p.m. to gain entrance to the event.

Nearby buildings have been swept and secured by Secret Service agents. A set of roads -- including Columbus Avenue, Wayne Street and Huron Avenue -- will be closed to clear a path for the senator. Sandusky school buses for Adams Junior High School have been redirected to Jackson Street. The stage is now set for the landmark visit.

The polls suggest Sen. Barack Obama is leading the Arizona senator, but McCain -- a man who survived POW camp -- isn't the type to give up without a fight. He has even told supporters he prefers being the underdog.

But the polls do not suggest he's much of an underdog in the Buckeye State. He trails Obama by only a few percentage points, and Ohio consistently swings in favor of Republican heads of state. Republicans won Ohio five of the past seven presidential elections.

Both candidates have traveled to all corners of Ohio seeking support. Somehow, in all their ferocious crisscrossing, neither Obama nor McCain has visited this region before today. To date, the closest city they visited was Toledo.

Serious presidential candidates seldom swing by the Sandusky area. George W. Bush -- nope. Senators John Kerry and Al Gore -- nay. Bill Clinton -- uh-uh.

But things are different this election cycle. Ohio is being treated as a must-win by both campaigns.

In such a tight state race, every vote matters. McCain campaign officials say the Republican contender is not taking any area for granted.

"We're making a number of stops over this two-day trip, and wanted to stop in some counties and areas where we've not been yet. Places where he wanted to communicate with folks throughout Ohio on his plans to get our economy back on track and move our country in a new direction," said McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay.

As part of his last-minute campaigning efforts, McCain is tearing across Ohio for two days. He is here today, Columbus tomorrow. Sen. Fred Thompson and Gov. Sarah Palin are in Lancaster this evening.

The polls have some conservatives biting their nails about Tuesday's election. But local Republican Party members sound optimistic that McCain's "strong" message is spreading -- and fast.

At the Erie County Republican headquarters in downtown Sandusky, a large crowd of volunteers turned out Wednesday night to help with preparations, such as painting signs. The group was fired up.

"We're looking forward to it, and this is going to be a great opportunity for Erie County to hear Sen. McCain's message in person," said Matthew Old, chairman of the Erie County Republican Party.

The Straight Talk Express pulls into town sometime after 1 p.m., and Sandusky will roll out the welcome mat for the presidential hopeful.

Enthusiasm is welcome, but visitors cannot bring home-made signs or lawn chairs, officials said.

STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS

WHAT: Sen. John McCain visiting Sandusky

TIME: Arrive from noon to 1 p.m. today

WHERE: Washington Street Gazebo in downtown Sandusky

COST: Free