Monday, May 28, 2007

Obama's N.H. campaign "vacation"

Chicago Tribune:
Selling himself in a politically independent section of the state, Sen. Barack Obama attracted more than 1,000 people here Sunday as he campaigned across this state's often-overlooked northern section.
Dressed in khakis, with shirt sleeves rolled up, the Democratic presidential candidate played up to the standing-room-only audience, many of whom have ties to the recreation industry that is central to the Mt. Washington Valley.

"We're scouting out spots for some summer travel and then in the fall," he joked. "We may dump the kids, and just Michelle and I have a little romantic weekend sometime, with TV cameras and Secret Service following us. It will be a little intimate affair."

While popular with tourists and those who own second homes, New Hampshire's North Country does not see as many presidential candidates as the southern half, where most live and will vote in what is traditionally the nation's first primary.

Amid the holiday weekend, it was the first time Obama has campaigned with his entire family since he launched his presidential bid in February. Besides his wife, his two daughters and in-laws have joined him for the two-day swing.

"For us, being together in one place is a vacation," said Michelle Obama, after an ice cream social in Berlin, N.H.

Riding in a recreational vehicle, Obama's motorcade stopped in North Conway, so he could pick up dinner for his family at the Wild Boar Tavern and Restaurant.

"They've got to eat a proper meal before they get their ice cream," Obama said after he and his daughters bounded out of the RV.

Inside the tavern, Obama's youngest daughter, 5-year-old Sasha, expressed some impatience as the orders arrive. "What about me?" she asked.

Earlier in a school gymnasium in Conway, Obama noted the absence of his daughters.

"The girls decided they didn't want to listen to their daddy," he said. "They are just waiting for the ice cream in Berlin."

To his credit, Obama pronounced the town's name correctly, not like the one that is a German city.

Obama got a standing ovation during his speech in Conway when he used his standard line that the Iraq war is one that "should not have been authorized and should not have been waged."

Noting Memorial Day, Obama pledged greater support for the 631,000 veterans he said have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I don't care whether you are for the war or against the war," he said. "Our troops should be treated right, not only when they are deployed, but also when they come home."

It is Obama's sixth trip to New Hampshire since starting his presidential campaign in February. But it is his first to the northern half of the state, an area where there is much ground to cover in exchange for relatively few voters.

Political observers say candidates often try to spend some early time in the northern section of the state so they can focus on the more vote-rich southern section when it is crunch time before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

"If you ignore it, that word travels awful fast," said Bill Zeliff, a former innkeeper and Republican congressman from nearby Jackson, N.H. "If you are going to run a statewide race, you have to spend time there."

Zeliff said residents in the region are generally viewed as being more conservative than the state as a whole and "they feel strongly about their 2nd Amendment rights."

Obama, who in the past has come under fire from anti-gun-control groups because of votes he cast in the Illinois Senate, did not mention guns all day.

In a state where the GOP lost both U.S. House seats last year, Democrats are generally feeling optimistic and that they can continue to make gains in coming elections.

Carroll County, where Obama made his first stop Sunday afternoon, narrowly voted (51.8 percent) for President Bush in the 2004 election.

The county, which stretches along New Hampshire's eastern border, has the highest proportion of independents in the state. That group is a crucial constituency for Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and others.

In 2000, independents, who represent a plurality of New Hampshire voters, chose in overwhelming numbers to vote in the Republican contest, fueling the victory here of Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

But there is evidence that many of them are planning to vote on the Democratic side in 2008.

A poll earlier this year by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed more than two-thirds of independents in the state plan to vote in the Democratic primary, fueled in part by a desire for change and dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and President Bush.

That could significantly change the dynamics in New Hampshire for both parties, with Democratic candidates needing to run with more moderate voices and Republicans needing to lock-up conservatives.

Valerie Horn, a retired innkeeper who attended the speech in Conway, said she spotted independents and even Republicans in the crowd, something she considers telling.

"That reflects the dissatisfaction with Bush that these people are coming out to look at other candidates," she said.



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