Sen. John McCain campaigns at BankUnited Center

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Amid signs of “Country First” and “Don’t Tax Me Bro,” Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gave his “Road to Victory Rally” speech Sunday night at the BankUnited Center to a crowd of students and South Florida residents.

Supporters donned name tags that read “Joe the Plumber,” wore homemade t-shirts with slogans such as “McCubans for McCain” to “Keep Your Change” and waved red and white pompoms.

In an attempt to mobilize a large gathering from the Hispanic community, Miami area music acts Albita, Continental Brass, Carlos Oliva y los Sobrinos del Juez and Javier Romero performed for over four hours.

“Florida is a very important state, where the Latin community is very strong in Miami, and it’s the vote that he needs,” said Miami resident and salesman Oscar Fernandez, 39. “I brought my kids to see what it is to be an American and live in a democracy.”

Continental Brass encouraged the festive atmosphere with a cover of the late Celia Cruz’s “La Vida es un Carnaval” as the crowd shouted “McCain,” salsa danced and formed conga lines.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” said Andrea Valenzuela, a sophomore at Florida International University and chairwoman for Students for McCain. “It is a great way to unite students and the huge Latin-American population here. I have never been to a rally like this before.”

Grammy-winning band Albita closed the opening affair as dancers in all-white costume danced with supporters on the floor.

Senior political science major and undergraduate chair for the Students for McCain Coalition Andrea Whalen said that the McCain rally was more charged than the Obama rally at the BankUnited Center she attended in September.

“The musical acts did a great job of getting people pumped up to hear McCain speak,” she said.

Republican congressmen Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart spoke in English and Spanish interchangeably between musical acts to endorse McCain and point out his military experience.

“Americans deserve a commander-in-chief who will not let them down and will not cut their funding,” Mario Diaz-Balart said. “[One who] knows and knew and was always sure that our men and women in uniform will win and come back soon with victory.”

Marlene Corral, 57, a Miami resident and coding specialist, said that she voted for McCain because he puts the country first and gave his life for it.

“I disagree with Obama because I don’t want rich people to give me a penny because they work for it,” she said. “We don’t need to spread the wealth because America is a land of opportunity and people need to have the responsibility to take that opportunity.”

University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala briefly welcomed the senator, while Republican senator Mel Martinez addressed the issue of McCain trailing in national polls.

“I believe that in this democracy of ours, we actually have to go vote in the polls,” Martinez said. “I’m not so sure that the Canes were favored to win Saturday, but they won.”

It wasn’t all a party, however, as McCain got down to business at around 12:40 a.m., with less than 31 hours until Election Tuesday.

Florida is a must-win battleground state for the senator, who trails Obama by a small margin.

“Obviously we’re thrilled to have Sen. McCain in the last two days of the campaign,” said UM College Republicans president and law student Harout Samra. “This is crunch time and we’re proud to have his last push at the University of Miami.”

On stage with his wife Cindy, daughter Meagan, Independent senator Joe Lieberman and actor Kelsey Grammar, McCain spoke fighting words about Obama through chants of “drill baby drill,” “USA” and “John McCain.”

“We have to bring real change to Washington and we have to fight for it,” McCain said. “I’m not afraid of a fight. I’m ready for the fight.”

He received a thunderous applause when he asked how many in the crowd were Cuban-American.

A popular theme for the evening was the idea that Cuba wanted change in 1959 and has suffered under the leadership of Fidel Castro. The economy also played a key issue as Joe the Plumber was mentioned.

“We are all Americans and we’re going to unite this country and get this country moving again. Make government live on a budget like you do,” McCain said. “My opponent is measuring drapes in the White House. They may not know it, but the Mac is back.”

Student reactions varied after the five-hour play finished.

Sophomore math major Dennis Kreiter said that McCain relied too heavily on talking points and criticism of his opponent.

“I thought the rally was really fun and it even got me psyched,” freshman Benjamin Wexler said. “I’m not actually going to vote for McCain, but it was a great rally.”