ROCHESTER, N.H.—Barack Obama waited until the very end of his 49-minute speech in this 30,000-strong town before sticking it to a wounded Hillary Clinton.
Referring to Saturday night’s debate between the four main Democratic candidates, Obama mentioned “one of [his] opponents” who, he said, had suggested that candidates should “stop offering the American people false hope” and that “people need a reality check.”
“What does that mean?” he went on. “Does that mean J.F.K. should have looked up at the moon and said, ‘Too far?’”
Obama also invoked the civil rights movement in his criticism, questioning whether such warnings should have caused Martin Luther King to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and tell his followers, “Go home, the dream has died.”
Obama made no reference to Clinton’s uncharacteristic show of emotion earlier in the day. But his event here offered its own surprise, if a less dramatic one. He was interrupted shortly after he began his speech by a group of pro-life protestors chanting, “Abortion is abomination.”
A large chunk of the crowd began booing the demonstrators and some tried drowning them out with Obama’s semi-official slogan: “Fired up! Ready to go!”
Obama, though, remained calm. Having first unsuccessfully tried to persuade the protestors to calm down with a promise to talk to them later, he then asked, “Are you guys gonna do this the whole time, or do we need to reschedule?”
Peace soon reigned again—the demonstrators were ejected from their upstairs position—and Obama sought to calm the crowd.
“Some people got organized to do that, and that’s part of the American tradition we are proud of,” he said, to applause.
Obama otherwise stuck mostly to his stump speech, though with repeated use of the phrase “just one more day” as he listed the changes he promised to affect if a New Hampshire victory tomorrow were to add to his momentum.
He also referred several times to his Iowa win, saying that the huge turnout “shook up every political assumption.”
His own experience of going to a caucus just as it opened and seeing young people “pouring in,” he said, was “a magical moment.”
The enthusiasm in evidence here made this rally seem—hostile demonstrations aside—like a textbook example of what a post-Iowa surge actually looks like.
At 3.30 p.m., a full two hours before the scheduled start, and with the temperature barely above freezing, a crowd of about 50 people were
already in line awaiting Obama’s arrival.
By the time organizers opened the doors early, at 4.50 p.m., the line had swollen to perhaps 300 people and snaked around the block.
At its head was Chris Riley, a 21-year old political science major who
had traveled from Massachusetts with his mother and a friend to hear Obama speak.
Using the same elevated lexicon common to many Obama supporters, Riley said he had first been drawn to Obama by his speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention, and that it was “a dream come true” that the senator’s candidacy had gone so well to date.
Asked for his take on why the candidate apparently holds such magnetic appeal for younger voters, Riley said, “He represents a change from the cynical, white Washington politician.”
The capacity crowd that filled the beautiful George Gilman Adams-designed Rochester Opera House seemed equally enraptured. In fact, one introductory speaker had to warn them not to stomp their feet, lest the wooden floorboards of the 100-year-old building prove unequal to the strain.
Before giving his main address, Obama said he spoke briefly to people outside who could not get in. (Organizers estimated that about 200 people could not be accommodated.)
One of those who did get in was 29-year-old teacher Jillian Tanida.
Despite hailing from Obama’s erstwhile home of Hawaii, Tanida, who is eligible to vote in New Hampshire, said she had only been “leaning toward him.”
Afterwards, she pledged to vote for him tomorrow.
“I 100 per cent agree with him on hope,” she said. “What we need is hope.”
She said that she admired Obama because “he knows struggle, he
knows what that’s like. A lot of the other candidates, I feel they don’t know what that’s like.”
Jennifer Tuttle said she had moved from her home in New York to New Hampshire to volunteer for Obama’s campaign.
A 35-yead-old video producer, Tuttle said that Obama appealed to her because of “his ability to think big. We could do with a little bit more of that at the moment.”
As the crowd dispersed into the chilly air, a stall selling merchandise bearing Obama’s name or image was drawing much interest. Obama t-shirts were for sale for $15, woolen hats for $20.