Philadelphia's five Democratic mayoral candidates tried to maintain a positive spin in the waning days of the campaign yesterday, saying it was the summerlike humidity that made them sweat, not a last-minute case of nerves.
"It's actually going pretty good today," said businessman Tom Knox, who has slipped into second place in recent polls behind former City Councilman Michael Nutter. "We're not as far behind as you might think. We are confident."
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, the early front-runner who maintains he is going to resurge by the time polls open on Tuesday, insisted that voters are moving in his direction - and that his fabled Election Day platoons will keep them moving.
"There is no organization in the country that knows how to get the vote out better than mine," said Fattah, appearing at a City Hall rally to promote after-school programs.
Even State Rep. Dwight Evans, whose last-place campaign acknowledged yesterday it had reduced staff to make sure it had sufficient resources to get out the vote on Tuesday, was upbeat as he met morning commuters at SEPTA's Fern Rock terminal.
"I tell people, 'Vote your conscience. If you vote your conscience, Dwight Evans is going to win,' " he said.
During the evening commute, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, whose campaign has also struggled for momentum, spent about an hour in the steamy transit terminal at Bridge and Platt Streets in Frankford.
"It sounds crazy, but I love this stuff, it picks me up," Brady said, moving through the terminal, dispensing hugs and handshakes and posing for pictures.
Nutter, the front-runner, urged several hundred cheering supporters at an early-evening rally at the Convention Center to do all they can between now and Tuesday night, when the polls close.
"I learned a long time ago that if you take your eye off the ball, that's when you get hit in the head," he said.
With only four full days of campaigning remaining, the candidates are working 15-hour schedules packed with public appearances, private fund-raisers and television interviews.
Fattah, Evans and Knox attended a 5 p.m. City Hall rally sponsored by Philadelphia Safe and Sound, a child-advocacy organization that is promoting after-school programs. While most of the hundreds of people at the rally were well below voting age, an important audience was present - live television cameras, including several in hovering helicopters.
Knox, a multimillionaire executive whose face has become familiar from his barrage of television ads, signed T-shirts and hats of schoolchildren as though he were a star athlete.
Earlier in the day, Knox visited a senior bowling league at Boulevard Lanes in Northeast Philadelphia, where he was warmly greeted by an older, mostly white, crowd.
In an interview, Knox said his internal polls reflected the same thing detected in this week's Keystone Poll: substantial volatility among voters. He lamented that some were influenced by negative advertising that's been directed at his business record.
"The problem is that people keep taking these potshots, and depending upon who they're taking the potshots at, the polls go up and down," Knox said. "It's amazing how reactive people are to them. There's not much more [the ads] can say about me, they just continue to say the same old things."
The sentiment among the bowlers demonstrated the effect of the advertisements, both pro and con.
"I vote for millionaires and sports figures," said Clifford Brenner, a 74-year-old retiree from Mayfair, who described himself as an enthusiastic Knox supporter. "I figure they're in it because they want to help and don't need the money."
But his friend Andy Gonzaga said the attacks on Knox had made him more skeptical.
"I was all for him at first, but when I heard about his business practices, I got turned off," he said. "I'm up in the air."
Brady, in the afternoon, received an endorsement from the Tavern Owners Association. John Stanton, owner of Whiskey Tango in Bustleton, and president of the association, said Brady would make the streets safe again and would eliminate the hated gross-receipts portion of the business privilege tax.
"He'll make it so we can run our businesses without getting killed by taxes," Stanton said.
Nutter, at his evening rally, portrayed himself as the hungriest candidate.
"I'm just a poor guy from West Philadelphia trying to get a job," Nutter, who stepped down from City Council last summer to run for mayor. "The other guys have a job. One guy obviously doesn't need a job. I really want this job."