Monday, January 07, 2008
When candidate rallies look like tailgating parties
Senior Political Analyst
This past weekend, I attended a Barack Obama rally in New Hampshire -- and it was unlike any I have ever seen over the past 20 years in that state. Typically, an event like this draws at best some 300-400 into a small, crowded hall. Parking is easy and on a good day, you can take in the rallies for three or four candidates.
Not this past Saturday with Obama. It took a half hour to navigate the traffic jam outside the Nashua North High School and finally, we had to park and walk the last half mile. Four years ago, a reporter told me, John Kerry held a rally there and the gym was half full. This time it filled up long before the event started, and there were long lines that had to be redirected into a second hall. Some 2,500 in all!
I don't want to overdraw conclusions. A goodly number came out of curiosity. Obama asked how many were still undecided and about a quarter raised their hands. Two different couples told me after that they are still for Hillary. And Hillary herself drew a big crowd in Nashua on Sunday.
But I also came away convinced that Obama is arousing emotions that we haven't seen for a long, long time. Several of the older folks wistfully told me he brought back memories of Bobby and Jack. A number of young people said he was the first to inspire them. It is not just a matter of changing policy directions or replacing Bush that is moving them. Clearly, he is helping people re-imagine a wholly different kind of politics.
I am not sure if he will make it (though he certainly has momentum that could bring a decisive victory in New Hampshire). And he deserves a lot more scrutiny. We need to know more about who he is down deep and have a better sense of what he would do.
But that this slender, youthful, idealistic black man could stir passions as he does is a remarkable testament to him -- and to the yearning in the country for a better way.