Monday, January 07, 2008
When candidate rallies look like tailgating parties
David Gergen,
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.
Posted By CNN: 1:00 PM ET
I think Obama can give great speeches and really draw you me that is how he is getting all of these people's attention. Plus I think this country is SO ready for a change! I agree with you that we need to know way more about him. We need to delve into who he really is as a person. And what he really stands for on issues.

I am glad that he wants to change the old and bring in the new...cause personally I think this country really needs that. But it's easier said than done. I'd like to hear from him how he is going to get the changes to occur if he were the president. Noone has really drilled him on that or really on anything that I've heard! He has gotten off easy I mean considering what the others have faced. I think it's time for him to get the third degree!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 1:19 PM ET
I was a Hillary supporter, but since Iowa and the phenomina I have witnessed, there is a change going on out there that Obama has really tapped into. I don't think he has all of the experience we traiditonally expect of someone running for office of President. But I don't think that is a significant issue of the crowds of individuals who are showing him their support. And to be truthful, in comparing all of the past candidates and individuals who have won the office, I have no doubt that he will be able to lead successfully.
Posted By Blogger Terry : 1:49 PM ET
I think Senator Obama is an inspiring speaker and with the mess this country is in right now, we all yearn for better times. But as Anderson has said before, "Hope is not a plan." I think the media need to take a hard look at Senator Obama. I want to know if this is just rhetoric, or does he really have the skills and experience to break the deadlock in Congress, to stop the use of earmarks, to break the hold of the lobbyists. Senator Obama strikes me as bright and eager and willing. But I just don't know if the has the strength to fight some very powerful, entrenched forces that will not want to do his bidding.
Posted By Blogger Barbara in Culver City, CA : 2:02 PM ET
I was far more impressed by Obama in the "early days" of the campaign when he spoke intelligently of change and his rally-around ideals sounded like he was warming up the crowd to deliver his smart strategies. At this point, I'm out of breath from holding my breath for him to say something of substance. I still hear him talk of ideals and strength and youth and JFK but I am afraid that his will be a liberal version of the presidency of the uninformed but idealistic Mr. Bush (compassionate conservatism, anyone?).

On foreign policy, Obama scared the living daylights out of me in his peremptory assurance to send bombs into Pakistan after Osama bin Laden with or without Pakistani involvement. Clinton and Richardson showed that they do have a grasp on the dangers in that area - that India/Pakistan (two nuclear nations, lest we've forgotten) are riding a hair trigger alert and are highly mutually antagonistic. Loosening salvos on their frontiers can and have wreaked reactions with extreme prejudice on the other. Sending weapons into a sovereign nation of any kind can provoke extreme responses. Do so in that tinderbox, and we may well not have bin Laden, al Q, Musharraf, Pakistan, India, OR Iran to worry about for the huge hole in the Asian continent that can conceivably result as a direct consequence of our self-righteous fury. This is a REAL danger, and Mr. Obama's answers show his cocky idealism is not rooted in any information about facts on the ground.

Hillary and Richardson both showed that they understand that this al Q.-Pak-India problem is a complex one and simple platitudes are the ultimate banalities. We cannot go throwing ourselves around the globe without common sense, playing the injured party on a quest for vengeance for 9/11. We've been doing that for the past 6+ years and have only a global snubbing to show for it.

I'm shocked that Mr. Obama, with his international upbringing, isn't wise to the consequence of preemptive actions like this. I had assumed and expected more from him. I had wanted to like him but after 10 months of waiting for substance and then a demonstration of such naivete is distressing. It sends me back to the drawing board - who to choose, who to choose? I do know that I do not want another internationally mis-cued, under-informed President.
Posted By Anonymous Leena, Cambridge, MA : 2:28 PM ET
"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."

Well, thank you for these small favors, David. The least the press can do is do some rudimentary investigation of the various candidates before you anoint one our next president.

And where did Edwards go? you'd think he'd dropped out of the race for all the coverage he's getting in the national media. For the record, I haven't picked my candidate yet, but I would like to do so without the press rushing in and ushering most of them offstage as also-rans.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 2:36 PM ET
I'm a Canadian so it matters not so much to me who wins the candidacy for the Democratic party. I must say however that watching very closely from afar for the past several months, it sure looks to me like the American people have spoken. I've been very impressed with Senator Obama. He may not shine during debates, but his knowledge, insight and charisma makes me almost sure Barack Obama is your next Democratic Presidential candidate at the very least if not your President.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 2:44 PM ET
Seriously - the Obama steamtrain began in 2004 - at the last Democratic convention. Does no one remember the fevered pitch that arose after that event? Heck, I'm a Republican and I remember it! :D

Momentum is a hard thing to compete against - something that can build up to a considerable, and sometimes unstoppable, force.

I know he won't come to Michigan, but I'd love to see him in person. I am sure the energy is phenomenal.
Posted By Blogger IMGINGER : 3:03 PM ET
To Bev at 2:44 who said: "it sure looks to me like the American people have spoken."

Excuse me? A FRAGMENT of the American people in a rural state have even had the opportunity to vote, and you're waiting for everyone but Obama to concede?

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly wants to know why 'we insist on an idiotic nominating system that gives a bunch of Iowa corn farmers 20x the influence of any Democratic voter in any urban area in the country'. I'd like to know too.
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 3:23 PM ET
I think it's because Barack Obama is a blank slate. He has many "Presidential" qualities in his demeanor and he says lots of positive things, but what has he done to show that he can for example, reduce welfare rolls, as he claims to be willing to do?

Obama even skipped out on important Iraq war votes. I don't call that leadership, I call that playing politics.
Posted By Anonymous Dan P. Westchester, NY : 3:53 PM ET
I have yet to be inspired by Obama, and I'm old enough to have been inspired by Bobby Kennedy.

Since the media hasn't given us a better sense of who Senator Obama is, here are a couple of sources they can check out before being swept up in the Obama wave.

In 2007, Congressional Quarterly's analysis found that Obama cast votes that agreed with President Bush's position 53 percent of the time, up from 49 percent in 2006.

According to, since 1/6/05, Obama has missed 177 of 1086 votes (very poor rating); he has sponsored 129 bills of which 120 haven't made it out of committee (average rating) and only 1 that was successfully enacted. During the same time period, Obama has co-sponsored 529 bills (average rating).

At the website you can see which special interest groups Obama has supported and/or has received money from.

Words indeed can be a very powerful tool, but it's the actions that make the tool most effective.
Posted By Blogger Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 3:58 PM ET
Imagine no Iraq War.
Imagine no excessive outsourcing.
Imagine no massive exodus from Mexico to the US.
Imagine money for senior citizens for the next 100 years.
Imagine superior education in American schools.
Imagine New Orleans with unbreakable levees.
Imagine a solid infrastructure of American highways and bridges.
Imagine no nukes.
Imagine an America voting at record numbers in 2008.
Posted By Blogger Sharon from Indy : 4:31 PM ET
Bush was elected because of personality and look at the mess were in now. Obama and the democrats are doing the same thing. After 8 years of Bush we need a solid leader with experience. Our country would be a third world country if all we put in business were popular people. I would never get surgery from a less experienced person no matter how likeable he or she is, and I would never take legal advice from someone just because I liked them.
I think the Democratic party is going to have to learn the hard way even if Obama is elected (style over substance leads to a bad presidency sounds familiar). Most likely McCain will be president. In the general election Obama's lack of experience against someone like McCain will hurt him in states like Ohio and Florida which lean more conservative and without them one cannot win the presidency.
Posted By Blogger Bill : 4:37 PM ET
Here's another "Keeping Them Honest" tidbit regarding Senator Obama...

During the ABC/WMUR debate on Saturday (which CNN ran on Sunday), Senator Obama denied the claim his NH chairman was a lobbyist. Well, it turns out that Jim Demers heads the lobby firm The Dmars Group, who has advocated on behalf of several major pharmaceutical companies. Obama's camp says it committed no foul because Demars lobbied only on the state level.

In addition to Demars, another Obama state co-chair, Jim Hodges in South Carolina is a registered lobbyist (both instate and federal).

You can come to your own conclusions on where the truth lies.
Posted By Blogger Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 5:23 PM ET
I have nothing but respect for Sen. Clinton and Sen. McCain and I hope that Mr. Richardson pegs the Vice President spot on the ticket. However, I am captivated by the message of Sen. Obama. What else is there in the dismal times our country has endured these last seven years except the desire to see Change and Hope?
Posted By Anonymous ADWagner : 5:37 PM ET
I don't know about calling these events tailgates. They sound more like Church revivals. I think I need to know more about Obama, also. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Thanks for adding your wisdom to 360!
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 6:31 PM ET
Thank you everyone for your words. My God, this is the first intelligent blog I have come across in the past two weeks.
I believe all 50 states have the right to be heard.
Iowa and New Hampshire don't get to choose our nominee.
Posted By Anonymous Christine, Atlanta : 11:19 PM ET
From what I saw on the tv the lines looked like the ones you see for tickets to a rock concert, or a high rivalry college football game, or even to get a Harry Potter book on the first day of publication!!

There's 10 months to go before we all vote for real. I wonder if the enthusiasm being shown now will still be around then?

I hope the candidates get down into the details of what "change" means to them - specifics not generalities. It'd be nice to know if they and the voters are talking about the same thing.

Annie Kate
Birmngham AL
Posted By Blogger Annie Kate : 1:51 AM ET
I am so sorry Americans!
Every nation deserves its leader!
Looks to me that Hillary is too advance for you.
You are behind England, Germany, India, Pakistan... even Afghanistan one day.

Obama-Osama will bring you the "Change" similar to South Africa, I suppose.

Lets you suffer 4 more years; at least!
Posted By Anonymous Gane, Canada : 9:24 AM ET
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