After her speech, Obama’s entrance to the stage resulted in an eruption.
Obama excels in large, friendly, partisan settings like the Jefferson-Jackson dinners (the address he gave to one back in Iowa is considered a watershed speech of his candidacy). And while his message of change has remained essentially unaltered, he has added concrete wins to the feel-good rhetoric.
“And today,” Obama said after taking the stage,“voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say, ‘Yes we can.’ We won in Louisiana. We won in Nebraska. We won in Washington State. We won north and we won south and we won in between and I believe that we can win in Virginia on Tuesday if you’re ready to stand for change.”
At that point the candidate, and the crowd reaction, essentially turned it into an Obama rally.
While Clinton had kept her speech as bland and non-combative against Obama, he showed no such concern, turning his requisite criticisms of McCain into veiled shots at Clinton.
Referring to McCain’s about-face on opposing the Bush tax cuts, Obama said “This is what happens when you spend too long in Washington.”
With a nod to his own opposition to the authorization of the war in Iraq, he said “I am looking forward to having a debate with John McCain about foreign policy,” and when he argued that he would make the better Democratic nominee against McCain, the understood point was understood.
“It’s a choice between debating John McCain about lobbying reform with a nominee who has taken more money from lobbyists than he has,” said Obama, “or doing it with a campaign that hasn’t taken a dime of their money because we’ve been funded by you—the American people.”
He added, “And it’s a choice between taking on John McCain with Republicans and independents already united against us, or running against him with a campaign that’s uniting Americans of all parties around a common purpose.”
Then, he tacitly argued against Clinton’s electability.
“There is a reason why the last six polls in a row have shown that I’m the strongest candidate against John McCain,” he said. “It’s because I’ve done better among independents in almost every single contest we’ve had.”
At times, Obama chose to take Clinton head-on, especially when talking about health care, which has emerged as the major domestic fault line between the two.
“I know what it takes to pass health care reform because I’ve done it—not by demonizing anyone who disagrees with me,” said Obama, this time echoing one of the criticisms against Clinton’s hardball tactics in trying to pass healthcare reform in 1993. A few minutes later he added “I know that Senator Clinton likes to point out the difference between our health care plans, there is a real difference here. Because Senator Clinton has said that the only way to provide universal health care is to say that we will go after your wages if you don’t buy health care. Well, I believe the reason people don’t have health care isn’t because they don’t want to buy, it’s because they can’t afford it.”
The Clinton campaign has repeatedly pointed out that the Obama plan requires coverage for children and thus would also have similar payment enforcements for the parents of those children. Furthermore, many health care experts argue that Clinton’s plan is a more proven route to universal health care.
In what was perhaps an accurate indication of the way the primaries have played out so
far, the Obama supporters made all the noise, but some attendees quietly moved toward Clinton.
“I think Barack Obama is exciting, but there is no there there,” said Cathy Smith, a 58-year-old marketing executive from Fairfax who said that she had started the day still undecided about who to vote for. “Given the crowd, I was actually hoping for something more from him—some more detail and substance. She did that.”
Ryan Abbott, a 34-year-old teacher from Richmond, disagreed.
“Obama did a really good job of distinguishing himself from Hillary and McCain,” he said. “McCain is always seen as this outside Republican, but today he did a good job of saying he really is not different from Bush.”