Obama fever grips New Hampshire
DERRY, N.H.— They stood in puddles of slush on a grey Sunday afternoon, some clutching signs, others rocking babies, 90 minutes before the candidate was to arrive. The line stretched from the front of the school gymnasium, down the length of a city block, then doubled back into the parking lot. Then doubled back again. Patiently they waited for Barack Obama, chatting about politics, echoing some of the Illinois senator’s talking points themselves, launching his trademark “Fired Up, Ready To Go” mantra to break the monotony. Inside, teenagers, mostly young girls, slouched over the security barricades, digital cameras dangling from their wrists, cellphones clutched in firm grips.
When he finally arrived, more than 90 minutes late, adding to the excruciating wait of the long afternoon, flashbulbs popped from all directions and for a couple of moments Pinkerton Academy gym was awash in strobe lights like some cheesy ’80s disco.
This is the waveObama has ridden into New Hampshire, but it is a wave Hillary Clinton is mightily pushing back against, challenging voters to look beyond the rhetorical crescendos offered by the Illinois
senator and probe beyond the words.
In truth, all candidates, Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, as well as Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee are playing to overflow crowds in a state that has become a fire marshal’s nightmare.
Every snowbank from Manchester to Portsmouth is dotted with campaign signs and supporters of candidates stand and hold their signs aloft to passing traffic all day long.
This state has something to say and it will get its chance tomorrow in the first primary of the 2008 U.S. presidential race.
Obama and Clinton are, as they were in Iowa, in a virtual tie in most polls, but one overnight tracking poll released last night showed Obama jumping to a 10-point lead over the New York senator and former first lady.
There is an unmistakable sense that Obama came here with a different status after last week’s Iowa caucuses.
He was no longer just offering hope, he was offering success.
He was a winner now, no longer just a candidate.
“I have never seen a candidate so inspirational,” said Jonathan Meagher, a lifelong Democrat and high school history and government teacher who drove from Massachusetts and lined up outside the school. “It’s a movement. It’s very exciting. “There has been a lot for this country to feel bad about. It’s a scary world out there and people here feel the need to believe in somebody or something.
“They want to rally behind someone.”
Then, speaking of Obama’s race only when prompted by a reporter, he added: “I don’t think people are consciously thinking about it, but I think in the back of their minds, maybe they are thinking it is time to put the issue of race behind us.”
Clinton is trying to rally against inspiration, no easy task.
“It is about how we bring about change by making sure we nominate and elect a doer and not a talker, that we begin to separate out rhetoric from reality,” Clinton told a large rally in nearby Nashua.
“You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.”
In retort, Obama, his voice hoarse and strained, told hundreds jammedaroundhimthattheymust reject leaders who tell them what they can’t do and embrace a president who can tell them what Americans can do.
Without mentioning Clinton, he said those who say he is offering false hope would be the same who would denigrate those who hoped to rid the U.S. of slavery, those who marched for civil rights, those who sought to travel to the moon.
“Imagining and fighting for what didn’t seem possible before,” he said, “that is the moment we are in now.”
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor, said the Democratic vote has moved from the cities to the towns of the state and the traditional bluecollar workers who gave Bill Clinton such a boost here in 1992 have given way to better-educated, higher-income “suburban Volvo drivers.”
“They are looking at all three candidates and like what they see,” he said.
“But with the win in Iowa, there is now an electability about Obama and that just put a finger on the scale for him here.”
But Clinton’s camp kept up an aggressive attack during the day, claiming Obama’s New Hampshire campaign manager was a lobbyist whose clients included the pharmaceutical industry — breaking the Illinois senator’s vow that he would not work with lobbyists — and then accused him of violating state law with last-minute “robocalls” to voters trying to counter Clinton’s late game “smear campaign.” The Republican campaign has also been reshaped since Iowa and taken a nasty turn. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a loser to Huckabee in Iowa and now running behind McCain here, took criticism from all sides at a televised debate Saturday. McCain has been most harsh on Romney, mocking him as the party’s candidate of change, a reference to Romney’s perceived flip flops, then disdainfully telling him he could spend his entire fortune on negative ads — and that still wouldn’t make them true. McCain, who courted and won New Hampshire independents in 2000 to shock George W. Bush in the Republican primary, appears primed for victory again here tomorrow, something that would be a harsh blow to Romney who had banked on early wins in Iowa and here to slingshot himself to the nomination. Clinton’s New Hampshire rebound got off to a rocky start in nearby Milford Friday at a candidate’s forum when she was twice booed by Obama supporters when she spoke of “change” and the emcee had to plead for order as supporters surged to get closer to Obama as he took the stage. But she was credited with a strong performance in Saturday’s debate and is banking on her support in the party base — and her husband’s popularity here — to counter Obama’s populist appeal.