Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Thousands volunteer for candidate Obama in Nevada"

WaPo (Reuters):
In Nevada, a state of mostly desert, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is quickly nurturing a grass-roots campaign, with a rally on Thursday showing such efforts are generating enthusiasm.
More than 3,500 people filled a Reno park to hear the 45-year-old senator from Illinois. At a press conference after the rally, he talked about the importance of attracting ordinary voters back into the political process.

"My campaign is bringing in new people. It is galvanizing people," Obama said.

One of those people is Barb Mucutt, 53, of Reno who has been on board for two months, working in the first campaign of her life.

"This is the first candidate in a long time I actually want to vote for," she said as she helped with crowd control. "It's my gut instinct that he cares about the welfare of the American citizens."

Nevada has taken on greater importance in the 2008 presidential race than in past years as it is holding its Democratic Caucus in January, sandwiched between the Iowa and New Hampshire races -- the traditional start of the race.

The Reno audience, with a mix of men and women, ages and ethnicities, were enthusiastic with Obama's vision for universal health care by the end of his first term, changes in education and bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Helping spread the word is his army of volunteers. More than 5,000 have signed up in Nevada to try to make Obama the Democratic candidate for president in the November 2008 election.

"One of the things that is unique about this campaign is we really encourage groups to do their own projects. A Southern Nevada group has made its own literature," said David Cohen, the campaign's deputy director for Nevada.

"It's a movement of people looking to change America and people will do this in all kinds of ways and we encourage that."

Groups are scattered throughout Nevada -- ranging from people uniting based on geography, ethnicity and professions to high school and college students.

Brent Busboom, 37, took the day off work as a Reno high school English teacher to volunteer. He spent nearly 40 hours making signs and telephone calls for Obama.

Across the United States, Obama's volunteers will descend upon neighborhoods on June 9 to knock on doors to talk about this man who jokes about getting his odd name from his Kenyan father and his accent from his mother who hails from Kansas.

"I'm heavily involved in the grass-roots movement. I have never seen a campaign hit the ground so early," said Francesca Loftis of Placerville, California, before heading to the rally.

"The last time I felt this passionate about a candidate was JFK," Loftis said of the late John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960.

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"One Place Where Obama and Elbows Still Meet" (with video)



NY Times, with video (5:14):
Last Christmas, Senator Barack Obama flew to Hawaii to contemplate a presidential bid in the peace of his childhood home. But there, on a humid playground near Waikiki Beach, he found himself being roughed up by some of his best friends. It was the third and final game of the group’s annual three-on-three basketball showdown, and with the score nearly tied, things were getting dirty.
“Every time he tried to score, I fouled him,” Martin Nesbitt recalled. “I grabbed him, I’d hit his arm, I’d hold him.” Michael Ramos, another participant, explained, “No blood, no foul.”

Mr. Obama, like everyone else on the court, was laughing. And with a head fake, a bit of contact and a jumper that seemed out of his range, Mr. Obama sank the shot that won the game.

From John F. Kennedy’s sailing to Bill Clinton’s golf mulligans to John Kerry’s windsurfing, sports has been used, correctly or incorrectly, as a personality decoder for presidents and presidential aspirants. So, armchair psychologists and fans of athletic metaphors, take note: Barack Obama is a wily player of pickup basketball, the version of the game with unspoken rules, no referee and lots of elbows. He has been playing since adolescence, on cracked-asphalt playgrounds and at exclusive health clubs, developing a quick offensive style, a left-handed jump shot and relationships that have extended into the political arena.

If one were somehow to play a highlight reel of Mr. Obama’s on-court exploits, it would start in Hawaii, with a pudgy junior high school student in short shorts and high socks who had a Julius Erving poster plastered on his bedroom wall.

It might include the time he and several Harvard Law School classmates played inmates at a Massachusetts prison; the students were terrified to win or lose, because the convicts lining the court had bet on both outcomes. (“I got two packs on you!” they called out.)

Cut to the future Mrs. Obama asking her brother to take her new boyfriend out on the court, to make sure he was not the type to hog the ball or call constant fouls. The reel might then show Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, playing with former NBA stars in a tournament fund-raiser for his Senate campaign, and at the family gatherings that always seem to end with everyone out by the hoop next to the garage.

Basketball has little to do with Mr. Obama’s presidential bid — in fact, he has trouble finding time to shoot baskets anymore — but until recently, it was one of the few constants in his life.

At first, it was a tutorial in race, a way for a kid with a white mother, a Kenyan father and a peripatetic childhood to establish the African-American identity that he longed for. In “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama described basketball as a comfort to a boy whose father was mostly absent, and who was one of only a few black youths at his school. “At least on the basketball court I could find a community of sorts,” he wrote.

Craig Robinson, Mr. Obama’s brother-in-law, said: “He didn’t know who he was until he found basketball. It was the first time he really met black people.”

Now, Mr. Obama’s friends say, basketball has been his escape from the sport of politics, but also a purer version of it, with no decorous speeches, no careful consensus — just unrestrained competition.

“He can be himself, it’s a safe haven, he can let his competitive juices flow and tease his buddies,” Mr. Nesbitt said. “It’s just a relaxing respite from the every-moment and every-word scrutinization that he gets.”

Before Rickey Green, a former NBA all-star, played with Mr. Obama in a 2004 Senate campaign fund-raiser, “I didn’t think he could play at all, to be honest with you,” Mr. Green said. But “he’s above average,” for a pickup player, Mr. Green said. “He’s got a nice little left-hand shot and some knowledge of the game.”

Mr. Robinson, now the coach of Brown University’s men’s team, said the 6-foot-2 senator is too skinny to be an imposing presence, but he is fast, with good wind even when he was a smoker. Mr. Obama is left-handed, and his signature move is to fake right and veer left, surprising players used to guarding right-handed competitors.

On the court, Mr. Obama is confident, even a bit boastful.

“If he would hit a couple buckets, he would let you know about it,” said Alexi Giannoulias, who played in the late 1990s with Mr. Obama at the East Bank Club, a luxurious spot in downtown Chicago.

He is gentleman enough to call fouls on himself: Steven Donziger, a law school classmate, has heard Mr. Obama mutter, “my bad,” tossing the other team the ball.

But “he knew how to get in the mix when he needed to,” Mr. Giannoulias said. “There are always elbows, there’s always a little bit of jersey tucking and tugging,” he said, continuing, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to win.”

The men — and it is generally men — who play with Mr. Obama are not, they will have you know, the paunchy, lumbering type. “Most of the guys who played in our little circle are former players in college or pros,” said Mr. Robinson, who is still Princeton’s fourth-leading scorer of all time. “They’re real high level.”

Mr. Obama cannot match their technical prowess, say those who played regularly with him. But he is fiercely competitive, and makes up for his deficits with collaboration and strategy. “He’s very good at finding a way to win when he’s playing with people who are supposedly stronger,” Mr. Nesbitt said.

At country clubs across the land, politicians network and raise money over rounds of golf, a sport Mr. Obama also plays. But Chicago is a basketball town, and over the years, Mr. Obama’s gymmates have become loyal allies and generous backers.

Mr. Nesbitt, an owner and executive at an airport parking company and chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, helped Mr. Obama get to know Penny Pritzker, who is now his national finance chairwoman.

Arne Duncan, a top Chicago public school official, is helping with Mr. Obama’s education platform.

Mr. Giannoulias met Mr. Obama on the court, and thanks in part to his backing, is now the Illinois state treasurer. Other regular gymmates include the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health and several investment bankers who were early and energetic fund-raisers.

Though some of these men could afford to build courts at their own homes, they pride themselves on the democratic nature of basketball, on showing up at South Side parks and playing with whoever is around. At the University of Chicago court where he and Mr. Obama used to play, “You might have someone from the street and a potential Nobel Prize winner on the same team,” Mr. Duncan said. “It’s a great equalizer.”

It is a theme that runs throughout Mr. Obama’s basketball career: a desire to be perceived as a regular guy despite great advantage and success. As a teenager, he slipped away from his tony school to university courts populated by “gym rats and has-beens” who taught him “that respect came from what you did and not who your daddy was,” Mr. Obama wrote.

Later, the Harvard game against the prison inmates, said Hill Harper, who organized it, was intended to show them that “we support you, we’re not removed from everything going on.”

But the easy friendships Mr. Obama once struck up on the court are a thing of the past. Lately, the rule in the family is “No more new friends,” Mr. Robinson said. “You don’t know what people’s real agendas are.”

Now, for exercise, Mr. Obama pounds treadmills at hotel gyms. He played a bit last year, with American troops on military bases in Kuwait and Djibouti, and again at Christmas. His staff members laugh when asked if the senator has had any playing time since coming to Washington or hitting the campaign trail. (“I dream of playing basketball,” Mr. Obama said in a television interview on Tuesday.) Before the first Democratic debate in South Carolina, Mr. Robinson reserved a court and a slot on Mr. Obama’s schedule, hoping the candidate could blow off some steam before the big night. It did not happen.

The solution, Mr. Obama’s friends say, is for him to win the presidency, so they can all play together at the White House.

“I always tease him about that,” Mr. Nesbitt said. “If you win, you gotta have a hoop.”

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"Senator Obama talks one on one with WQAD's Matt Hammill" (with video)

WQAD, with video (6:43):
Iowa City, Iowa - Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama spent the day in Iowa City, Iowa where he touted his health care plan.

He sat down with NewsChannel 8's Matt Hammill to discuss how healthcare is affecting the wallets of Americans.
Here is the interview:

Barack Obama: What's absolutely clear is that we are becoming less healthy as a people. We may be the first generation that actually has a lower life-expectancy than our parents- at least our children might because obesity rates are going up so high.

Smoking is actually steadily declining, and that is a good thing, but obesity has skyrocketed. Just to give you some sense of the magnitude: if we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980, the Medicare system would save one trillion dollars in costs because so much of healthcare inflation is a consequence of obesity-related diseases.

Matt Hammill: Do you see any circumstances where as president you would ever send troops to Iraq?

Barack: Well obviously it's a hypothetical question because right now we have got over 100,000 who are there. My first goal is to get those troops out of Iraq, get them home, and some of them re-deployed to hunt down Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the border of Pakistan. But you cannot hypothesize what is going to happen. What I know is if we remain on the course we are on right now, we are going to see more US casualties, more Iraqi casualties without any appreciable improvement in the situation on the ground there, and that the key to a solution in Iraq is going to be because the political factions make a decision that they are going to live together- it is not going to be because we impose a military solution in Iraq.

Matt: Never say never?

Barack: Well, you never say never about anything.

Matt: Mrs. Clinton considered pulling out of the Iowa Caucuses- did your staff ever have that conversation?

Barack: No. We are doing well in Iowa. We are building up staff and operations and volunteers here- partly because I feel so comfortable campaigning here. It feels like my home state-I am right next-door across the river. I think we are generating a lot of supporters here- it feels familiar campaigning in Iowa. Obviously, we have terrific competition- people like John Edwards have campaigned here for a long time and are going to do well, but we think we are going to be very competitive- we look forward to competing here vigorously

Matt: What success were you in Iowa?

Barack: We think that we can be in the top tier of candidates. We think the people of Iowa will be responsive to our message and we like our chances.

Matt: Do Iowans have good BS detectors? Are you finding that?

Barack: I think they do because they have been at this a long time. And their folks would like to lift the hood and kick the tires and take you out for a test drive. I suspect a lot of them will make their decision late after the full betting of the candidates and I think that is a healthy thing- the Iowa Caucuses are early and they set the tone for the country. I think Iowans are well informed and they take those responsibilities pretty seriously.

Matt: I work in your state now but I grew up here [Iowa] and I would be the first to tell you that this is hardly the bastion of diversity- given that thought, are you seeing indications that this presidential campaign can get beyond race?

Barack: Oh absolutely, we are going to places where there is not a big African American population and we are drawing thousands of people- great enthusiasm, terrific volunteers. When I ran for the US Senate, people assumed that we could not get votes in downstate Illinois other than a few pockets where there were African American voters. We ended up winning the White vote in rural Illinois- both within the primary and in the general- so my experience has been that people are looking for somebody who can help them in their lives: help them pay for healthcare, help them save for their children's college education, help them deal with rising gas prices, get their kid home from Iraq- those are the issues people are really concerned about and if I make a credible presentation that I am the person to lead this country in a better direction I think people will vote for me.

Matt: A called a friend of mine last night, who has been a 20-year long Democrat, and said, if you could ask Barack Obama one question what would you ask him? And she said ask him if he is for real. Ask him if he is the real deal. Ask him if he can remain independent if he is sitting in the White House.

Barack: I think the nice thing is that people have a track record to look at and they can see how I came up in the ranks- I did not arrive here because I had a father or family members who are powerful politicians. I do not come from wealth- I came here because I was a community organizer working with churches, helping people who had been laid-off from work at steel plants. As a civil rights attorney, as a state legislator, people can take a look and see that I have generally risen in politics based on relationships with folks at the grassroots level, and that is the reason I am in politics. I truly believe that there is a core decency to the American people and that ordinary people, if they have a chance to get the levers of power and make government responsive, usually make pretty good decisions and the country goes in a good direction.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Healthcare Address in Iowa City" (video)

BarackObama.com, with video (4:10):
Barack Obama discusses his healthcare plan, and tells the personal story of a supporter in Iowa City on May 29, 2007.

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"Obama won’t play by the book"

The Hill:
As other White House hopefuls for the Democratic nomination scramble to attend every major event in key primary states, Obama picks and chooses.

And while Democratic candidates court their liberal base, Obama has not been afraid to offend influential constituents in the Democratic Party.
Some have labeled Obama’s campaign as error-prone; others simply call it unconventional.

Obama will be the only Democratic presidential candidate who doesn’t attend at least one of two major state Democratic functions in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire this Saturday.

While half the candidates will spend time in both places, flying out from the New Hampshire Democratic Convention in the morning to join the rest of the field to help the Iowa Democratic Party raise money it needs to host its caucuses, Obama’s campaign has cited a scheduling conflict.

Scheduling conflicts are a roadblock every candidate must face, but Obama has run into more than a few in the early going, particularly when they involve early-voting states.

In an e-mail to The Hill, Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated, “Barack Obama spent last weekend in New Hampshire on his sixth trip since February to the state where he traveled on an RV with his wife and daughters and was greeted by a crowd of more than 5,000 people at the final event in Hanover. He spent Monday night meeting with Veterans in Iowa on his 9th trip to the state since February and then introduced his healthcare plan at the University of Iowa [yesterday] morning.”

For the most part, Obama is setting his schedule instead of letting so-called must-attend events dictate his itinerary.

In February, the senator missed the first Democratic presidential forum in Carson City, Nev. In March, the South Carolina Democratic Party hosted a kickoff event in Washington that Obama opted to skip.

And last Friday, Obama was the only candidate not to show up for a forum hosted by officers of the International Association of Fire Fighters in New Hampshire.

A source with the firefighters said many in the group were thoroughly disappointed the senator called in by phone and then even more so when the senator blamed his staff for the conflict. At one point, the source said, Obama could be heard admonishing a staff member for making noise while he was on the call.

South Carolina Democrats, meanwhile, said they aren’t angry that the senator was a no-show for their high-profile function.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) showed up for the kickoff event, while every other Democratic candidate — except Obama — contributed money to the $150,000 fundraiser.

At the time in early March, Obama operative Steve Hildebrand told then-South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin that the campaign was being forced to decide between “want to” expenses and “have to” expenses.

Obama subsequently jolted the political world weeks later when his campaign reported the senator had raised $25 million in the first quarter.

Unlike New Hampshire’s race, Iowa’s and South Carolina’s contests are funded by the individual parties, not the states.
Thus, party fundraisers like the Hall of Fame Awards Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend are crucial to building
the resources for a day that is estimated to cost $1 million.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan said Saturday’s dinner and the party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in November are the only two big events the party will host to raise money for the storied caucuses.

Brennan said he understands the demands of the campaign trail, and he is not upset with Obama or his campaign. But he did say that some party members are “disappointed,” and the dinner is a “great opportunity” for candidates to talk to a lot of likely caucus-goers in one stop.

When he does show up, Obama has shown that he gets people’s attention. Before big crowds, he has thrown verbal jabs at traditional Democratic voters by startling Jewish voters with comments in Iowa and irking automakers in Detroit.

More recently, Obama missed two labor events in the last couple of weeks and attracted criticism in the blogosphere for his hostile takeover of a MySpace page.

Yet, most of these voting factions have publicly said they hold no grudge against the senator.

One notable exception is Joe Anthony, who ran the popular pro-Obama MySpace page until it was seized by the senator’s campaign.

Anthony continues to have hard feelings toward the Obama campaign, having withdrawn his support, saying now he hopes former Vice President Al Gore will get in the race.

Many bloggers were furious with Obama’s handling of Anthony’s MySpace page.

“The Obama campaign has a very talented staff, and I think that they probably do ‘get it,’” Anthony said. “What they may not fully understand, and what I hope they’ve learned from this, is that they should do more to embrace the netroots community rather than attempting to control it.”

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"Join Barack in Seattle"

BarackObama.com:

Obama 08

Dear Friend,

 Barack Obama will be in Seattle this Friday, June 1st at 5:30 pm at the Quest Event Center’s WaMu Theater. Supporters throughout the region will be gathering to share their excitement and join our movement for change.

There are still some tickets to the event remaining, but they are going fast:

Click here to purchase a ticket for the Seattle Kickoff

Here are the details:

Seattle Kickoff with Barack Obama
Qwest Field Event Center's WaMu Theater
800 Occidental Ave S.
Seattle, Washington 98134

Check-in begins at 4:00 pm, and the event will start at 5:30 pm.

Barack is bringing people together across the country, from all walks of life. I hope you will join us in Seattle and become an important part of this special event.

We look forward to seeing you on Friday.

Many thanks,

Obama for America

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"Obama outlines healthcare plan"

LA Times:
Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday offered an ambitious plan to curb healthcare costs and expand insurance coverage, in the latest example of Democratic presidential candidates honing strategies to achieve coverage for all.
Among the top three Democratic contenders, the Illinois senator joins former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in outlining a comprehensive health plan. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has the most experience with the issue, has offered some ideas to rein in costs and is working on a plan.

Republicans have thus far largely shied away from healthcare but are expected to weigh in with ideas that stress individual responsibility and market reforms instead of reliance on government. "It's a Goldilocks story, where the Democrats have gone way too far, and I don't think Republicans are doing enough," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff.

Obama's plan would expand the federal role in regulating insurers and paying for healthcare, particularly for the costliest cases. But it would stop short of creating a Canadian-style system in which the government paid all the bills. The proposal would require most employers to contribute toward workers' coverage and require parents to obtain insurance for their children through an employer, a government program, or on their own.

The plan's most far-reaching aspect is a set of cost-containment changes that Obama said could save a typical insured family up to $2,500 a year by wringing out much of the inefficiency and waste that make the U.S. healthcare system the world's costliest.

"We have reached a point in this country where the rising cost of healthcare has put too many families and businesses on a collision course with financial ruin," Obama said in a speech at the University of Iowa. "Democrats and Republicans, small-business owners and CEOs have all come to agree [it] is not sustainable or acceptable any longer."

Obama's plan is more a vision than a blueprint, but it could buttress his standing with Democratic primary voters who may be skeptical of his level of experience.

"He's finally responding to the criticism that he's a theme in search of a program," said Democratic political analyst William A. Galston. "The fact that he's getting specific is more important than the precise substance of the specifics."

But some experts said the plan was short on specifics, particularly regarding the hoped-for savings and the costs of providing coverage to the estimated 45 million uninsured.

"The numbers don't seem to work very well," said health policy analyst John Sheils, senior vice president of the Lewin Group, a top healthcare consulting firm. "I think [the savings] are just dramatically overstated."

Consultants to Obama said in a memo released by the campaign that $200 billion or more in annual savings were possible through a combination of changes to increase efficiency, including converting to electronic medical records, better coordination of care for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, and a dramatic reduction in duplicative tests and medical procedures of dubious benefit.

But Sheils said most major employers and government healthcare programs were already pursuing such reforms, and the jury was still out on how much money could be saved. Moreover, some of Obama's proposals would require doctors to change the way they treat certain medical conditions, a reeducation process that could take years.

"They don't explain how they are going to get at the inefficiency," Sheils said. "I don't see anything [in Obama's plan] that changes the fundamental incentives of the system."

The Edwards campaign also criticized the plan, saying the lack of a requirement that individuals buy health insurance means it will not achieve universal coverage.

Edwards' proposal includes a so-called individual mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance, and employers would have to help pay for coverage for their workers.

But Obama campaign officials said the senator thought it would be unfair to impose an individual mandate unless healthcare costs could be reined in. The Obama plan should cover at least 98% of U.S. residents, the officials said, and Obama would fine-tune it to get the remainder. Obama has pledged that, if elected, he would sign legislation guaranteeing coverage for all by the end of his first term.

Under his plan, the government would create a public insurance program for workers and their families who do not have access to group coverage through their employers and do not qualify for other programs such as Medicaid. Small businesses could get coverage from the program for their employees, which would offer benefits patterned on those available to government employees.

The proposal calls for the creation of a National Health Insurance Exchange, which would act as a clearinghouse for people wishing to purchase private coverage, but also set and enforce standards for the industry. Obama would prohibit insurance companies from refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

To help lower the cost of private coverage, the government would pick up the cost of insuring against catastrophic illnesses — a proposal that Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) made in his 2004 presidential campaign.

With savings from healthcare efficiency, Obama's campaign estimated it would cost $50 billion to $65 billion a year to cover the uninsured. That sum could be raised by allowing President Bush's tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers to expire, the campaign said.

That cost estimate is too optimistic, Sheils said. "If you want to have universal coverage, it's $100 billion to $115 billion," he said.

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"Barack Obama's quiet rebellion"

Walter Shapiro (Salon):
He is blazing a campaign trail away from conventional politics. But can he redeem the hopes that so many have placed in his historic candidacy?

May 30, 2007 | HANOVER, N.H. -- It was a movie director's idea of how to choreograph a political event. Begin with a sun-splendid Memorial Day afternoon. Add a pastoral Ivy League campus and a youthful crowd of about 5,000 would-be converts staring eagerly at the stage. Finish with a new-generation presidential candidate in a crisp white shirt, his sleeves rolled up, radiating coiled charisma.
At Dartmouth College Monday, Barack Obama had reached the practiced moment in his stump speech when he explains the Kenyan origins of his "funny name." Hearing this now-familiar story, a group of Kenyan students cheered lustily. "But my mother is from Kansas," Obama added. "Is anyone here from Kansas?"

Near silence. Finally, reflecting on his dual heritage, Obama said, "Kansans are a little less demonstrative than Kenyans are."

The Dartmouth rally came at the end of Obama's two-day tour of the North Country of New Hampshire, an area that easily fulfills every tourist-brochure fantasy of how small-town New England is supposed to look. The expectations for the Obama campaign, seven months before the New Hampshire primary, are a bit more daunting. The unanswerable question is whether this fledgling senator -- who has risen faster and higher from a single convention speech than any Democrat since William Jennings Bryan in 1896 -- can redeem the oversize hopes that so many have placed in his historic candidacy.

No would-be president can be fully judged from his appearances on the campaign trail. Such public moments do convey, however, the essence of the persona that the candidate is offering the voters. What leaps out watching Obama is that he often is as understated as a stereotypical Kansan. In situations where most Democrats would resort to heart-on-the-sleeve emotionalism, Obama is a portrait of thoughtful reticence.

In political terms, this campaign will test whether the Democratic voters will pick a nominee who waxes cool while his major rivals (certainly John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, by marriage and learned experience) burn hot. As David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, put it, "For people who only know him through his [2004] convention speech in Boston, it can be a little arresting that he isn't pounding the podium. But that's him. He's a cerebral, thoughtful person."

It is not that Obama necessarily underperforms as a candidate, though he was flat during the Democrats' opening-gun debate in South Carolina late last month and at a rally in Charleston the next day. But while Obama can dominate a room or a stage, his style is pure 21st century. Win or lose, Barack Obama is the Democrats' first post-Clinton politician.

The appeal of Obama is undeniable -- he drew more than 1,000 people to a Sunday rally in Conway, a town in which only 3,000 voters turned out last November. During the question session, a woman stood up in the middle of the high school gym to complain about the near-impossibility of living on her $800-a-month Social Security disability check. In response, Obama launched into a reasoned dissertation on the Social Security issue, talking about how George W. Bush exaggerated the funding crisis to sell his privatization scheme and declaring, "We have to stop borrowing from Social Security to pay for the war in Iraq."

Only after he spoke for nearly two minutes did Obama begin to acknowledge the person and the pain behind the question. "It's also true that disability payments sometimes are not sufficient," he said, "and I would have to know exactly what your situation is to determine the category you fall in." Finally Obama uttered the sentence that would have leapt instantly to almost any other candidate's lips: "I know how tough it is to live on Social Security."

A little later in the questioning, a man announced that his son was a paratrooper headed to Iraq and denounced the congressional Democrats for backing down on a timetable for withdrawal. (Obama, like all his Democratic rivals in Congress, save Joe Biden, were part of the minority opposing continued unrestricted funding of the war.) In his lengthy response, Obama talked about how he "struggled" with his Senate vote and understood why "my colleagues had a hard time with it." But Obama, the only leading Democratic presidential contender to oppose launching the Iraq war, went on to say, "I couldn't in good conscience continue on a course that wasn't working."

There was only one thing that was surprising about Obama's answer -- he never once acknowledged that he was talking to the father of a soldier headed into a brutal war zone, a parent who feared that his son might die in a conflict that has lost any rationale or larger meaning.

This is not to argue in any way that Obama is unfeeling, but rather to stress that his campaign style avoids many of the commonplace rituals of political life. Obama also seems reluctant to play the populist card that has been a staple of Democratic rhetoric for decades. Previewing his plan for universal healthcare coverage at an ice-cream party in a downtown park in Berlin, N.H., Sunday night, Obama went out of his way to declare, "I'm not somebody who will run down the insurance companies and the drug companies just for the sake of it."

Drug companies and insurance companies have long been a favored target of Democratic presidential candidates. They were directly in the firing line when Al Gore built his 2000 campaign around -- not global warming or the environment -- the mock populism of "the people vs. the powerful." Neither Edwards nor Hillary Clinton is apt to miss many opportunities to go after the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. But there was Obama, speaking to a largely Democratic audience in an old pulp-and-paper town, promising not to take any cheap shots at these corporate villains.

Tuesday morning in Iowa, Obama unveiled his long anticipated healthcare plan -- joining Edwards, the initial policy pacesetter, and Hillary Clinton, who once claimed this as her signature issue in a competition to provide universal coverage for the 45 million uninsured Americans. The Obama proposal, which was estimated to cost between $50 billion and $65 billion a year, would both create a new national healthcare plan for those without coverage and launch a new federal watchdog agency to set standards for (and police) the insurance marketplace.

With another Democratic debate slated for Sunday night, it is possible that the campaign may pivot for a while on the details of the rival healthcare plans. This was the terrain of the 2000 battle between Al Gore and Bill Bradley. More likely, the model will be the 2004 campaign in which all the Democratic contenders announced their healthcare plans with great fanfare -- and then watched the race revolve around the war in Iraq.

Obama over the weekend was accompanied on the campaign trail by both his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters. (If the race ever narrows down to Obama vs. Edwards, they could have an entire debate revolve around who has the cuter children.) Watching the Obamas as a political couple, it seemed evident that Michelle had been given responsibility for public shows of empathy.

Sunday night, as the sun was setting in Berlin, Obama agreed to take a final question. A 22-year-old woman stood up, leaning on a cane, and spoke movingly about the disabilities that have ravaged her life. (Her symptoms are somewhat analogous to those of multiple sclerosis.) "I want to go to college, " she declared. "I want to work, I want to do those things that some people with healthy bodies take for granted." She then asked the candidate whether he would restore funds for programs for the disabled that the Bush administration had cut.

This time Obama acknowledged the woman directly: "You have made a powerful presentation, so I know that you will go far. It's extraordinary. The main thing I'm going to do is to listen to you and those like you." He then began criticizing recent federal court decisions restricting the Americans With Disabilities Act. But Obama did not stay with the dry dissertation of policy for long and turned back to the woman, fighting to stand erect with the help of her cane. Looking out at her through gathering gloom, he said, "This is something that we understand pretty well -- Michelle can talk to you later -- because Michelle's father had M.S."

Afterward, Michelle Obama raced over to the young woman -- a blogger who goes by the screen name of "Megan Wilson," who asked that her real name not be published -- and embraced her. Megan began sobbing, saying, "I know I'm courageous, but my body doesn't like me." Michelle Obama held her for a long time and promised to bring over her husband. When Obama arrived, five minutes later, he said, "You spoke so well, we're proud of you." And then added, "You'll head our disabilities agenda." But he left the hugs to his wife.

There is a risk in drawing firm conclusions from these small moments on the campaign trail. But with the traditional intimacy of the primary warm-up season virtually stripped from the current presidential campaign, these glimpses of something approaching reality are how we come to understand a candidate as a person rather than as a set of position papers or as a walking résumé.

So here is a working theory, subject to many modifications as the campaign unfolds: Barack Obama is simultaneously both aware of the power of cheap rhetoric and easy emotion -- and intellectually contemptuous of it. He is a candidate in quiet rebellion against the banalities that too often govern political discourse. It is questionable whether he can maintain this high-minded stance through the debates and the primaries. But for the moment, Obama is running for president on his own terms, and succeeding.

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"Obamas Tour Northern N.H." (video)

WaPo, video (video, 5:00):
Barack and Michelle Obama along with their daughters Sasha, 5, and Malia, 8, made campaign stops across northern New Hampshire over the Memorial Day weekend.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Obama doodle sells for $2,075"

Chicago Tribune:

A doodle by Barack Obamasold on eBay yesterday for more than $2,000.The proceeds went for charity, but maybe the final bid price will inspire a new fundraising strategy for the Illinois Democrat.

Or maybe his Senate colleagues will offer him money to stop drawing pictures of them. The doodles appear to be of (from left to right) Sens. Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein and Ted Kennedy.

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"TODAY on the Trail: Barack Obama" (video)

The TODAY Show (NBC) with video (6:00):
Meredith hits the campaign trail with Democrat Barack Obama.

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"Obama at Dartmouth" (video)

filligarvideos, (video 5:06):
Barack speaks to thousands at Dartmouth College about becoming a community organizer.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

"Obama says he will do better in next debate"

Chicago Tribune:
HANOVER, N.H. -- As he prepares for an upcoming Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama said Monday that he expects to turn in a better performance than he did in his first national debate in late April.
"I assume that I'll get better as time goes on," Obama said during a news conference at Dartmouth College, where he concluded a two-day campaign swing through New Hampshire.

At the first debate in South Carolina, where all eight declared Democratic presidential candidates appeared, Obama was generally given so-so reviews.

The Democrats are set to face off again here in New Hampshire on Sunday.

Obama expressed skepticism that the series of debates will command strong viewership, but said he is "very confident about how I approach these topics and how I think about major problems that we confront in this country."

He reiterated that his biggest challenge is to deliver his responses "in 60-second sound bites," something that does not come naturally for him. "Sometimes I have a long wind-up," he said.

Asked whether his staff would coach him with a buzzer, Obama did not rule it out. "I'm sure they will try all sorts of things," he said.
Here are more photos from New Hampshire via BarackObama.com.

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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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"Obama and family head through N.H.'s North Country"

AP:
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama employed his wife and young girls here on Sunday, dispatching Michlle's humor and his daughters' youth in his search of support for his presidential bid.
As Obama and his wife walked toward the cameras and the crowds, their daughters took off from the RV toward the bins of ice cream here on a town square in New Hampshire's rural North Country.

"This is a wonderful vacation for us," Michelle Obama said Sunday evening, standing under red, white and blue bunting on a wooden gazebo. "We try to turn campaigning into a family event. The only reason the girls came is because they heard about this ice cream social and they've been talking about it since we mentioned it a week ago. They got their ice cream and they're gone."

The Obamas' trip through the North Country was their first campaign swing through the early voting state with the family, including 5- and 8-year-old daughters. They brought not only added interest, but also added applause.

"I'm impressed they all came here as a family," said Yvette Leighton, a Berlin resident who brought her 12-year-old grandson to hear Obama. "Morals are low. It's good to see a family all together."

When Obama first arrived at a Conway event earlier Sunday afternoon, his arrival prompted a seven-minute rolling applause. When he mentioned wife Michelle, smiling in the second row, she brought another three minutes of standing cheers.

An audience member posed a question to Michelle Obama on Sunday night in Conway, N.H. She stood, took the microphone and answered the question with praise for her husband. That answer brought a standing ovation.

"I think maybe we should stop there," Barack Obama said.

He took one more question: How would Michelle Obama serve as first lady?

She returned to the stage, took the microphone and told her husband: "You may sit down."

The crowd roared with laughter.

"I think people need to get to know them," said Jill Davis, who stood to meet the Obamas after the Conway event. "They're great together."

It's a his-and-hers approach that has brought a mixture of praise and amusement from crowds.

After their appearances on Sunday, the couple went to different sides of the venue, shaking twice as many hands and posing for twice the pictures. The added Obamas on the trail doubled both as a personal benefit to the candidate and a political uptick for the campaign.

"I think it's an opportunity for him to remind folks that he's a family man and understand the issues involved with families and raising kids," said Mark Wrighton, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "From a practical standpoint, if you're assuming you're going to president, it's good to get the kids used to the fishbowl as early as possible."

The two Obama girls went back to their RV, guarded by the Secret Service -- and their aunt and uncle, also along with the ride.

Obama understood the stakes.

"I think I'm a pretty good father and an excellent husband," Obama told the crowd.

Berlin, one of the poorest towns in the state, is plagued by unemployment and economic hardships. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton started her New Hampshire campaign here back earlier this year. She attracted a record 500 people to that event.

Obama and his family used their trip here Sunday to repeat the campaign pitch -- an agenda for change, a stance against the war. Obama also used his family for a joke about the trip, that it was a scouting trip for future trips to mountainous New Hampshire.

"We may dump the kids, and Michelle and I just have romantic weekend some time -- with the TV cameras and the Secret Service following us," Barack Obama said.

Obama is hardly the first or only candidate to bring along young children on the campaign trail. In 2004, when Sen. John Edwards was his party's vice presidential nominee, he often brought along Jack and Emma Claire to events. As Edwards runs again, he is considering hiring a tutor for his two youngest children -- now ages 9 and 7 -- and taking them on the road full-time.

Also a day earlier, Sen. Chris Dodd brought along his two young girls, Grace and Christina.

"The flip side is the actual questions and discussion about the family is often discouraged in the campaign discourse," said Dean Spiliotes, director of research at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. "It can really benefit a candidate -- particularly a Democratic candidate who, if he gets the nomination, will be running against a Republican candidate, and the whole family-values discourse is an important part of Republican politics."

He said, though, that it sends unspoken messages that might sound hollow if given words.

"It typically provides a good visual and it sends some pretty clear, often unspoken messages about a candidate and how he or she views family life," Spiliotes said. "It can be a very potent tool, but it can also be exploitative."

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"Barack Obama in New Hampshire" (with video, audio)

CBS2 News Chicago (with video, audio):
Senator Barack Obama is trying to sway voters in the key state of New Hampshire. CBS 2’s political editor Mike Flannery reports on his first trip to the state.
Obama called for improved mental health services for veterans at a stop in Conway where he spoke of proposed changes to recruitment and deployment of military mental health providers. He called for the Pentagon to recruit more professionals to help identify and treat problems. And he sought mandatory mental health screenings of all troops. But his stop in Berlin, N.H., Obama's wife Michelle introduced him to voters at what was billed as an ice cream social.

"Being together in one place is a family vacation," said Michelle Obama. "You've got my brother, his wife, my nice and nephew, so we're hanging out on the RV playing Uno."

The most important part of Michelle Obama's public campaign duties now involve vouching for her husband's character.

"This man is a good father, a man I can trust," she said. "He's running for president because he truly believes that we can do better as a country."

Notably no longer a part of Michelle Obama's public omments are her joking references to her husband's shortcomings.

"Everybody's heard that," she said. "I need to keep it fresh."

When asked to talk about the good stuff, Michelle Obama said, "I think everybody understands the broader point, which is Barack is human."

Sen. Obama's tour of north country continues Monday. He will make several stops including one in Hanover where Dartmouth College is located. He will hold a town hall meeting and a student rally there.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Obama's Wife No Mere Coat Holder"

AP:
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama handed his jacket to wife Michelle at one point during a steamy rally Sunday in a school gym, but it was clear she's more than a coat-holder for the Democratic presidential candidate.
When someone in the audience asked Michelle Obama why voters should vote for her husband, she walked confidently onto the stage, took the microphone and smoothly answered.

"He's a man who has put his values before his profit," she said. "He's not running for president because he wants to be president. That's sort of the irony in it. He's running for president because he believes we can do better as a country."

The line brought a standing ovation.

"I think maybe we should stop there," Barack Obama said.

But he took another question: How would Michelle Obama serve as first lady?

Returning to the stage and the microphone, she was a little less reverent.

"You may sit down," she told her husband.

Roars of laughter from the crowd.

"I come to this with a lot of interesting talents, but I think it would be unfair of me to say today what I would do in a couple of years," she continued. "I need to be prepared to do what the country needs me to do at the time.

"Whether that's baking cookies or serving as a wonderful hostess, that's my job. I have to be prepared to do what's necessary. And we won't know what that's going to be until we get there. I will be staunchly invested. It is a joint project."

At an "ice cream social" later in Berlin, N.H., the couple's daughters made their own appearance _ sort of.

As Obama and his wife walked toward the cameras and the crowds, their two young daughters took off from the RV they arrived in, making a straight line to the bins of ice cream arrayed around the town square.

"This is a wonderful vacation for us," Michelle Obama said afterward, standing under red, white and blue bunting on a wooden gazebo. "We try to turn campaigning into a family event. The only reason the girls came is because they heard about this ice cream social and they've been talking about it since we mentioned it a week ago. They got their ice cream and they're gone."

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"Obama wants better mental health screenings for service members"

AP:
CONWAY, N.H. --Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Sunday the country is not providing enough mental health services for active duty troops and veterans. He proposed spending hundreds of million dollars more each year for better care.
"We cannot expect our young men and women to serve in our armed forces, if we are not making sure they get the treatment they deserve," Obama said during a late-afternoon, town hall-style meeting, which brought more than 1,000 people to a middle school gym.

"That should be part of the sacred pact we make with our veterans."

Traveling over the Memorial Day weekend with his family in this early nominating state, the Illinois senator urged the Pentagon to recruit more mental health professions to help identify and treat problems. He said improvements are needed at every stage of military service: recruitment, deployment and re-entry into civilian life.

"Let's lead, by showing the world how we treat our veterans when they come home. ... We still don't make sure those who have problems have the adequate counseling; we don't help families the way we should," Obama said.

Obama has made his opposition to the war in Iraq a central part of his campaign. His fervent opposition has helped rally anti-war voters. Obama's criticism of the war on Sunday again prompted a standing ovation, complete with whoops and hollers.

Critics note Obama was serving in the Illinois Senate when Congress authorized the war in Iraq.

According to Obama's plan, mental health treatment would be a regular part of military life. There would be improved screening and treatment and no denial of benefits due to pre-existing conditions. Military families would receive more counseling and support.

Obama aides said he would propose increasing the Veterans Affairs Department's budget. The changes he advocates are expected to cost several hundred million dollars a year, they said.

To help cover the cost, Obama proposed better collection of unpaid taxes owed by defense contractors. A second source could come from recovering more money from third-party payers at Defense Department and VA hospitals.

An internal VA review released this month said veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at increased risk of suicide because not all agency health clinics have 24-hour mental care available.

The report by department's inspector general was the first comprehensive look at VA mental health care, particularly suicide prevention.

Already strained troops and veterans say they are suffering more psychological problems due to repeated and extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earlier in May, a panel of medical experts said the surge in the number of veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder requires development of better tests to evaluate affected personnel and determine how best to compensate them.

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"Hillary leads, but Obama is the man to watch"

Andrew Sullivan:
In the winter of 1991 a colleague urged me to check out one of the emerging Democratic candidates. There was a gaggle of them, but one had begun to acquire a reputation for real talent. He had a fundraiser in DC and I tagged along for the ride. By the end of the day I was convinced that I had seen the next president. It took seeing Bill Clinton in the flesh to appreciate his full political skills.
I’m not going to jinx myself with predictions, but I couldn’t help but remember that day this past week when a colleague tipped me off to another fundraiser in Washington. This time it was for Barack Obama. The event was in a yuppie disco/ restaurant on the Potomac waterfront.

The crowd was strikingly diverse – mainly white but with a heavy black and Latino presence and skewed young. Obama took the stage and the energy in the room intensified. With no notes, this gawky intellectual rallied his base – part seminar, part sermon. He seemed tired, even a little irritable. You could sense him reach through exhaustion towards the rhetorical tropes that he has honed on the trail.

If I had to find a single word to describe his effect it would be easy: real. In a universe of political plastic, Obama has a rough, authentic edge. I thought, after a couple of decades in this jaded town, that I was beyond being inspired any more. But despite myself I felt the cynicism ebb.

It’s an odd feeling for a small government conservative like me. Obama, after all, is a big government liberal. Make no mistake about that.

He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I’ve heard in my lifetime. He isn’t Tony Blair or Clinton. He doesn’t have their defensive crouch learnt from a postReagan era of dominant conservatism. The overwhelming first impression is that this is a candidate for real change. He has what Ronald Reagan had in 1980 and Clinton had in 1992: the wind at his back. Sometimes elections really do come down to a simple choice: change or more of the same?

Look at the polls and forget ideology for a moment. What do Americans really want right now? Change. The New York Times poll released on Friday found that more Americans – a whopping 72% – now say that “generally things in the country are seriously off on the wrong track” than at any time since 1983.

Who best offers them a chance to turn the page cleanly on an era that most want to forget? It isn’t Hillary Clinton, God help us. John Edwards is so 2004. John McCain is a throwback. Mitt Romney makes Bill Clinton look like a rock of unbending principle. Rudy Giuliani does offer something new for Republicans – the abortion friendly, socially tolerant protector against terror. But no one captures the raw, pent-up desire for a new start more effectively than Obama.

I do not know if it is enough to propel him to the White House. Hillary Clinton has a strong lead in the Democratic primary polls, especially among women. But I do know that his candidacy has a clarity and logic to it that no other politician has.

Obama’s speech began and continued with domestic policy. War? What war? There was one tiny, fleeting mention of the terror threat. Yes, this is the Democratic base. Yes, the base’s fixation right now is ending the war in Iraq. Yes, you can make an argument that withdrawal there helps rather than hurts the terror war. But Obama didn’t make that argument.

The war on terror was all but absent from his remarks. He wanted universal healthcare, better education, greener energy and an end to what he decries as “cynicism”. His first mention of the Islamist threat was a call to end the war in Iraq. To listen to a stump speech five or so years after 9/11 and hear only a passing mention of it is disconcerting. Yet it is also bound up, surely, with his appeal. That appeal is partly to take Americans past the 9/11 moment and describe a journey forward that isn’t obviously into darkness.

Two further impressions. At a couple of points in his speech he used the phrase: “This is not who we are.” I was struck by the power of those words. He was reasserting that America is much more than George W Bush and Dick Cheney and Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Katrina and fear and obstinacy and isolation. So he makes an argument for change in the language of restoration. The temperamental conservatives in America hear a form of patriotism and the ideological liberals hear a note of radicalism. It’s a powerful, unifying theme. He’d be smart to deepen and broaden it.

My favourite moment was a very simple one. He referred to the anniversary of the march on Selma, in 1965, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. He spoke of how he went to commemorate the anniversary and how he came back and someone said to him: “That was a great celebration of African-American history.” To which Obama said he replied: “No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history.”

To hear an American who is half Kansan and half Kenyan reassert the core decency of America, its enduring promise for people from all over the world, of all religions and ethnicities, should not be a moving moment. It should be a cliché. And yet something caught in my throat as I heard him reiterate it, as if he reminded me of something we have lost – but something that nonetheless endures.

Obama’s great appeal is that his identity and the content of his character rebrands America both to itself and to the world. To America he offers a promise of repairing the painful, toxic breach of the Iraq war and the Bush presidency. To the world he sends out a signal. Look at Americans again. They do not all look or sound like Cheney.

In many ways Obama is far more representative of contemporary multi-cultural, majority-minority America than Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or any of the crusty old white guys running for the Republican nomination. He is the son of immigrants, a racial mix, a political liberal who has honed his message the hard way – by arguing with conservatives, listening to their arguments, reasoning as well as organising his way to public office.

Am I swooning? Maybe. Are Ameri-cans? Not yet. But they are restless in a way that suggests we are not about to witness a political adjustment in Washington so much as a sea change. It may not happen. Wartime is a deeply unpredictable time. But there’s a reason for Obama’s wide appeal. A man may be meeting a moment.

The overwhelming question for me at this point in this historic campaign is a simple one: what will stop him? And how much artillery does Hillary Clinton have in her arsenal?

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

"BO, U R So Gr8"


Wall Street Journal:
CHICAGO -- In a corner of a spacious, spare, window-lined office overlooking Michigan Ave., Chris Hughes is surfing the future of political campaigning. Tapping on his laptop, the sandy-haired 23-year-old scans emails, helps moderate disputes among on-line backers and consults outside bloggers on how to bolster presidential candidate Barack Obama's Internet site. More than 65,000 people have now registered on the site (dubbed MyBO by campaign staff) and Mr. Hughes is part of a team that's trying to figure out how to get them more deeply involved in the Illinois senator's presidential campaign.
About 5,000 groups of Obama supporters now use online tools to create their own events and fundraisers around the country. Two weeks ago, 700 people in New York registered for a walk-a-thon that raised at least $5,000 for Mr. Obama's campaign; a much larger national "walk for change" is now being organized online. No concern is too small. In April, Mr. Hughes helped arrange the logistics for bulk T-shirt sales for several Internet groups hoping to sell them at their informal fundraisers.

Three years ago Mr. Hughes was a Harvard sophomore, sitting in a dorm room helping develop what would become Facebook Inc. the popular social-networking site, with two roommates. After he graduated last June, he moved to Silicon Valley to work on Facebook full-time. But five months ago he put his career on hold to move to Chicago, in the dead of winter, for a "significant" pay cut, in favor of a 14-hour-a-day job with Mr. Obama's campaign. His goal: to transfer the same magic that transformed the way college students interact to a presidential campaign.

Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites allow people to create home-page hangouts and use them to connect with their friends online. People create pages for themselves on these sites that show their name, photos of themselves, contact information and other personal details. They can also message each other, meet friends of friends, chat on message boards and discover new bands. The sites are among the fastest growing corners of the Internet -- social-networking sites drew more than 111 million unique visitors in April, according to research firm comScore Inc.

Now social networking is shaping up as a potent new force in the 2008 presidential campaign. Candidates are betting that the sites -- existing commercial ones or their own newly created ones, like Mr. Hughes's My.BarackObama.com4 -- will expand their power to find and mobilize supporters, particularly elusive young voters who go to the polls at much lower rates than their elders.

The Obama, John Edwards and John McCain campaigns say they have already seen social networking help broaden their base of contributors to thousands of people who may only give $50 or $100 at a time, but can be pinged later for more money. Mr. Obama's striking fundraising success to date has been driven in part by the user-friendly methods his Web site has developed, not just for collecting donations, but for allowing fans to establish their own fundraising events. The donation page looks like the checkout page on Amazon.com. About a quarter of Mr. Obama's $25 million first-quarter haul came via the Internet from more than 50,000 donors.

At the forefront of this new experiment in political social networking are young people like Mr. Hughes. Nineteen-year-old George Stern, the head of former North Carolina senator John Edwards social network, One Corps, is so young he'll be voting in his first presidential election next year. But the same forces that give social networking such organizing value -- giving thousands of volunteers the power to blitz each other with information and cook up plans -- can create new conflicts in a campaign. The tight, message-control instincts of a political organization don't mesh easily with the chaotic, free-form creativity of the Internet. Even the tech-savvy Obama campaign discovered that earlier this month, when officials clashed with the volunteer running Mr. Obama's MySpace page. Another Internet-focused candidate, Mr. Edwards, ran into trouble when bloggers on his staff posted incendiary comments on their personal blogs about anti-abortion Catholics and religious conservatives, leading to their resignation.

Skeptics also wonder if the Internet can really translate into votes. In 2004, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign won plaudits for its online network, but failed to translate that into an effective on-the-ground campaign structure in Iowa, where it collapsed.

Mr. Hughes grew up in Hickory, N.C., but says he felt out of place in his socially conservative hometown, and began plotting his escape during his freshman year of high school. He began applying to boarding schools even though his father, a paper salesman, couldn't afford the tuition, he says. Mr. Hughes was accepted at Phillips Academy and, despite his parents' misgivings, moved to Andover, Mass. at the age of 14, for his sophomore year of high school.

"That was the hardest year of my life," Mr. Hughes recalls. Armed with ambition, a financial-aid package and a thick southern accent, Mr. Hughes says he slowly began to find his way at the elite prep school.

His accent disappeared. He began to get involved in politics, becoming president of the school's chapter of Young Democrats. He knocked on doors for presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000. When he graduated, he was accepted at Harvard University.

During his sophomore year at Harvard, one of his roommates, Mark Zuckerberg, began obsessively writing software for a new Internet site in the common room of their Kirkland House dorm suite. The site replicated online the university-produced yearbooks that help students meet each other. On Facebook, students could create a personal Web profile page with photos and favorite books and movies, and share all that with anybody else with a Harvard email address.

Mr. Hughes didn't write code. He majored in history and literature at Harvard, specializing in French social and political theory. Instead, he helped design many of Facebook's features and privacy policies including the ability to "poke" -- a wordless online tap designed to get another user's attention.

When his two roommates and co-founders moved to Palo Alto, Calif. to focus on Facebook full-time shortly after the site took off, Mr. Hughes remained in school. A meticulous dresser -- his more rumpled co-founders tease him about looking "Prada" -- he became the company's spokesman. He also helped with product development via phone, email and occasional West Coast visits between classes. He joined them in the summers, working at Facebook and living with them in a shared house.

After graduating from college a year ago, Mr. Hughes moved to Palo Alto to work on product development full time at Facebook. During the 2006 campaign, Mr. Obama wasn't running yet, but his staff decided to take advantage of the growing interest in him among young people and wanted to set up a profile for him on Facebook. Mr. Obama's Senate Internet director, Jim Brayton, emailed Facebook's support team for help and Mr. Hughes responded.

Mr. Hughes quickly helped the Obama camp set up an official profile on Facebook. It included photos of Mr. Obama, information about his favorite musicians (John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder) and movies ("The Godfather" I and II, "Casablanca") -- and almost immediately drew messages of support from other Facebook users. "Run for president! Save us!" wrote Alex Sheperd, a University of Missouri student, in the first message on Mr. Obama's page.

Four months later, Mr. Obama announced his candidacy. Mr. Hughes, who had stayed in touch with Mr. Brayton, called to see how he could help.

Mr. Hughes was hired after an interview over coffee at Washington D.C.'s Union Station. "I asked him about some of his ideas," for the Web site, Mr. Brayton says. "He basically went on for an hour." Mr. Hughes won't disclose his salary. He has taken a leave from closely-held Facebook but says he retains an ownership stake and stock options.

All of the presidential campaigns have tiptoed into the social-networking waters this year by putting up profiles on MySpace, Facebook and other commercial sites, hoping to get themselves in front of potential voters. But most are largely passive efforts, putting up pages on existing commercial sites, which impose limits on how candidates can use them. Facebook privacy policies, for example, restrict campaigns from sending blast emails to groups. Facebook also doesn't provide detailed contact or demographic information about users. Mr. Hughes knows those restrictions well -- he was, among other things, in charge of helping craft them.

Several candidates have taken the step of actively developing their own social networks -- Mr. Obama, Mr. Edwards and, to a lesser extent, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Sen. McCain of Arizona -- in hopes of sparking online support that can be translated into real-world donations and volunteerism. McCainSpace allows people to create home pages inside Mr. McCain's Web site so they can recruit other people for his team and raise money. In February, Mr. McCain's Web site attracted some 226,000 unique visitors, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings, making it the most viewed Republican campaign site. But that still lagged far behind Mr. Obama, the Democratic leader, who logged 773,000 unique visitors.

What the Obama campaign wanted wasn't a Facebook clone; the goal is political action, not socializing. The campaign launched its social-networking site using off-the-shelf software but has been tweaking it ever since. For now, the software limits Obama supporters to posting just one personal photo of themselves and other limited biographical information, such as their hometown or a favorite quote. It doesn't allow them to post information on their favorite movies or books.

But a "resource center" offers everything from downloadable flyers to broadband videos of Obama speeches and commercials with instructions on how to turn them into DVDs. The site's fundraising section allows supporters to set a fundraising goal and invite registered "friends" to help them reach it -- with a United Way-style thermometer of how close a person is to his target and a one-paragraph e-mail pitch to send to potential donors.

Mr. Obama's site is designed to help like-minded supporters across the country come together to generate new financial support, share ideas and ways of volunteering.

The heart of MyBO is the "groups" section, where people create or join online groups that share blogs, ideas, and organize events and fundraisers together. Groups are generally organized by geography ("Sonoma County for Obama;" "Midcoast Maine for Obama,"), interests ("Educators for Obama") or common goals ("Quit Smoking for Obama"). The groups contain a mixture of long-time Democratic activists who've volunteered for campaigns as well as neophytes who say they have never been interested in getting involved in politics until now.

The campaign's embrace of Internet activism and the downside of giving up total control became clear earlier this year during a public fight between the Obama camp and one of its most enthusiastic volunteers.

Joe Anthony, a 29-year-old Los Angeles paralegal, launched a MySpace page three years ago when Mr. Obama was first elected to the Senate. It mostly contained biographical information about Mr. Obama and a few photos, but it attracted thousands of friends over the years. When Mr. Obama launched his campaign traffic to the site took off and Mr. Anthony was contacted by Mr. Hughes about how the campaign could help with the site. But as traffic to the site skyrocketed to 160,000 "friends" by April, campaign staffers started worrying about the quasi-independent site. (Joe Anthony's blog7 on MySpace, login required)

The campaign became concerned about liability issues, and whether Mr. Anthony's efforts could run afoul of Federal Election Commission rules, which set limits on "in-kind" contributions as well as money. They also raised political concerns: "What if someone put up an obscene comment during the day while Joe was at work?" a campaign official wrote in one blog. Obama officials decided they needed to run the site themselves. Talks with Mr. Anthony about how to hand over the site fell apart. The campaign contacted MySpace, which killed Mr. Anthony's Obama page on April 29.

The result: Mr. Obama lost the network of 160,000 "friends" Mr. Anthony had built up. That figure has since grown back to more than 73,500 who have joined the site since Mr. Obama's Internet team relaunched it. Many online activists complained one of their own had been betrayed and Mr. Anthony withdrew his support for Mr. Obama. "We're not a list of names and we're not inexpensive advertising," Mr. Anthony wrote on his MySpace blog. "We are exactly the ordinary people you speak of, using the Internet to attempt to change the world."

These days, Mr. Hughes shows up for work each day around 9 a.m. He says he won't leave the office until 11 p.m. He often eats at the Sbarro in the basement of the office building.

At first, Mr. Hughes mostly answered email questions and dispensed advice to MyBO members. He personally joined 67 of the largest and most active groups, scanning emails members send out to each other.

He began getting so many emails -- hundreds a day -- that the campaign assigned another staffer to help out. He now spends more of his time helping plan new features that can be added to MyBO, like a new interactive map that shows where supporters are gathering for Mr. Obama during his national "Walk for Change" event.

Some tech-savvy Obama supporters grumble about limitations of the official site. The blog section on My.BarackObama.com, for example, doesn't allow users to post YouTube videos, for example, or photos or audio files, like MP3s. It's also hard for other bloggers to use search engines like Technorati.com, to discover what people on My.BarackObama.com are posting.

Mr. Hughes and other members of Mr. Obama's Internet team acknowledge their site has limitations and they're working to address them. They're advertising for Web developers and say they have a list of at least a dozen things to do to improve the site.

A new Obama feature launched on Friday allows Facebook users to add a window to their site that shows an Obama video, tells them how many of their registered "friends" support Obama and urges them to encourage friends who live in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa to join his cause.

Mr. Hughes's enthusiasm is being tempered by the experiences of others on Mr. Obama's staff, including his boss, Internet director Joe Rospars. Mr. Rospars was a key Internet staffer for Mr. Dean's campaign and remains focused on ensuring Mr. Obama does not meet the same fate as the former governor. The campaign has to remain focused on using technology as a means to reaching a campaign goal, he says. "We don't just do technology for technology's sake," says Mr. Rospars. "How does something help the campaign or help reach a campaign goal?"

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Barack: "Truth On Iraq" (video)


Markos with video (1:28):
Obama slams McCain and Romney. More of this, please. Mock the other side. They deserve nothing less.

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"Barack Responds to Romney and McCain"

BarackObama.com:

Senator Barack Obama released the following statement today in response to statements made by Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney on last night’s vote.

This country is united in our support for our troops, but we also owe them a plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else’s civil war. Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working, but I do not.

And if there ever was a reflection of that it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters, and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago.

Governor Romney and Senator McCain are still supporting a war that has cost us thousands of lives, made us less safe in the world, and resulted in a resurgence of al-Qaeda. It is time to end this war so that we can redeploy our forces to focus on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and all those who plan to do us harm.

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"The Gilmore Girls, Iowa and Barack Obama (with video)

BarackObama.com, with video (3:26):
My co-worker stopped by yesterday and told me that on this week's episode of the television show 'The Gilmore Girls' the main character takes a job as a reporter covering Barack Obama in Iowa. I wanted to share the video with you all.

It turns out this video comes from the series finale, and that Rory Gilmore (the main character) will leave the show and the town she grew up in for the greener pastures of Iowa and the Barack Obama campaign. Look out for the Sioux City reference and for her desire to be "gum-buddies" with the "next president of the United States."

Oh and by the way, my co-worker was on the tread-mill when she watched the clip and said she nearly fell off the machine.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq"

BarackObama.com:
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today released the following statement on his vote on the supplemental appropriations bill:
"This vote is a choice between validating the same failed policy in Iraq that has cost us so many lives and demanding a new one. And I am demanding a new one."

"We must fund our troops. But we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war. We need a plan to compel the Iraqi people to reach a political accommodation and to take responsibility for their own future. It's time to change course."

"I opposed this war in 2002 precisely because I feared it would lead us to the open-ended occupation in which we find ourselves today."

"This President has led us down a disastrous path and has arrogantly refused to acknowledge the grim reality of this war, which has cost us so dearly in lives and treasure."

"After he vetoed a plan that would have funded the troops and begun to bring them home, this bill represents more of his stubborn refusal to address his failed policy."

"We should not give the President a blank check to continue down this same, disastrous path."

"With my vote today, I am saying to the President that enough is enough. We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly."

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"Obama Leads All Republicans in General Election Head to Head Contests"

John Zogby:
In the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Barack Obama trails fellow U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in a national survey of likely Democratic Primary voters, but that same survey shows he would fare better against Republican opponents in General Election match–ups, a new Zogby International telephone poll shows.
Obama would defeat all Republican opponents, including John McCain of Arizona, Rudy Giuliani of New York City, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and Fred Thompson of Tennessee in prospective presidential contests, the poll shows.

Meanwhile, Clinton would be defeated by both McCain and Giuliani, but would win against Romney and Thompson, the survey shows. Democrat John Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, would also lose to McCain and Giuliani but defeats Romney and Thompson.

The telephone survey, conducted May 17–20, 2007, included 993 respondents and carries a margin of error of +/– 3.2 percentage points.

Overall, Obama would defeat McCain by a 47% to 43% margin, with the remaining 10% not sure. Against McCain, Obama does much better than Clinton among independents and Republicans, the survey shows. He wins 14% of the Republican vote, while just 8% of GOPers would cross the aisle for Clinton. Among independents, Obama wins 42% support against McCain, while Clinton wins 39% support. In both contests, McCain leads the two Democratic rivals among independents.

There is a big swing between the McCain–Obama contest and the McCain–Clinton contest among moderate voters, which in this survey included a partisan make–up of 38% Democrats, 25% Republicans, and 38% independents. In the McCain–Clinton contest, moderates favor McCain by a 49% to 45% edge, but in the McCain–Obama contest, moderates swing to favor Obama by a 49% to 41% margin. In contests against Giuliani, Obama enjoys a similar advantage compared to Clinton among these key swing voters.

Among independents, Giuliani narrowly tops Clinton, 44% to 43%, but Obama holds a huge 56% to 30% edge over Giuliani among those same voters.

Overall, Obama would also defeat Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, by a 52% to 35% margin, and would beat former Tennessee Senator Thompson, 52% to 35% edge.

Pollster John Zogby: “What we are seeing here is a continued resurgence of the moderates and the independents, building on the momentum and the key role they played in last year’s congressional midterm elections. For instance, they play a key role in the races where the Democratic candidates are Obama or Clinton, in that they favor Obama by greater percentages in the match–ups against Republicans. Our polling shows Obama is seen as the most charismatic candidate and is also one of the top choices to reach across the political divide in our country to bring Americans back together. This is a John Kennedy–like combination of characteristics, and moderates and independents appear to be recognizing that.”

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