COLUMBUS, OHIO--Costumes and monsters stole the show at a John McCain rally in Ohio's capital city tonight. It being Halloween and all, kids showed up at Nationwide Arena dressed as the Republican candidates. Boys pretending to be McCain grayed their hair with powder and wore oversized suits, while girls dressing as Sarah Palin coiffed their hair into beehives, donned red jackets, and carried plastic baby dolls. There was even a costume competition in which a baby in a toupee won for best McCain, while a baby in padding won for best Arnold Schwarzenegger, the special guest at this final-stretch campaign event.

The arena itself had a costume foisted on it. The venue's interior was (not so convincingly) transformed into a farm with a red barn backdrop and several cartons of apples. (I guess that without the theming, the Nationwide Arena wasn't "real America" enough.) And, during the speeches, heinous ogres were invoked. Mentions of Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, the media, and, even with Schwarzenegger there, Hollywood, were met with choruses of boos.

Yet the star of the Republican masquerade ball was none other than Joe the Plumber. One little boy wore an unwieldy cardboard construction of a toilet, while other children and adults alike went the simpler route of an "I am Joe the Plumber" t-shirt--or, simpler still, a "Joe" sticker. Still others chose no costume at all and, while waiting in line for the event, simply identified themselves as Joe with raucous cheers. This was done at the urging of a beefy DJ in a cowboy hat who shouted over his country music, "I'm just a DJ, but like you, we're all Joe the Plumber."

"I very much see how Joe the Plumber is feeling. If I become successful and obtain the American dream, why do my taxes have to support those who don't pay taxes?" Joe Vowell (aka "Joe the Appraiser," according to his cardboard sign) asked me as he made his way into the arena.

The standard-stump event went off without a hitch--and yes, Schwarzenegger used the socialism critique of Obama--but new costumes caused an angry stir as the sated McCain fans were leaving. Supporters of the Ohio Democratic Party had donned McCain and Bush masks and were standing in pairs just outside the arena exits, holding "Nightmare on Main Street" signs and looping their arms around each other. Some rally-goers exited quietly, but others couldn't contain themselves.

"You're all hiding behind masks, and Barack does, too!" growled one man puffing on a cigar. Another tall man in a baseball cap walked right up to a pair and announced, "You're with Obama? That's why you look so fake." He then strode to another duo and, leaning close to their masked faces, spat the words, "If you were born in this country, you would vote for McCain." One state Democratic Party rep told me she'd been called an Arab several times at this and other events, even though she has red hair and freckles.

Even when it's not Halloween, that's scary stuff, indeed.

--Seyward Darby