Joel's New Hampshire Diary
Swept Up in the Obama Moment
By Joel Achenbach
The best sign of the campaign trail, probably not official, but stuck prominently in the snow outside of Exeter High School this morning:
"Experience in a world that no longer exists vs. change you can believe in."
Has the world really changed over the past four days? Maybe it's a passing spasm, a case of over-thinking the situation and overestimating the Iowa results and the trends in the polls. But if Obama's not leading a political movement, he's doing a pretty good impression of someone who is.
An Obama event is not a friendly place for cynics, skeptics, or the chronically unimpressed. This is revival-tent stuff. The senator from Illinois used the metaphor of a religious conversion:
"I am going to try to be so persuasive, so that those of you who are still wavering...will suddenly come to the conclusion -- a light beam will shine through -- will light you up -- and you will experience an epiphany -- I have to vote for Barack!"
And then the pragmatist spoke: "When you do, we would love you to fill out one of these supporter cards to memorialize this moment."
He asked for a show of hands of those who are still undecided. A surprising number rose into the air -- a couple of hundred people in a crowd well over a thousand.
"We are coming after you," he said. "You have fair warning."
Before his speech, one undecided local voter, Kim Orifici, who had briefly leaned toward Clinton, said she's now likely to vote for Obama. She didn't like it when Clinton last night went on the attack against Obama on health care. It seemed too much like a campaign tactic: "It made her look a little bit weaker," she said.
To which Joni Anthony, standing next to her, said, "She lost her cool, and he has a calm confidence."
Obama made the point in last night's debate -- in response to a dig from Sen. Clinton that change required more than fancy talk -- that words actually do matter. When you hear him speak and rouse a crowd, you realize that indeed words can indeed be a force for change, and inspiration for change. That's what Dr. King showed, and President Kennedy, and now, it seems, Obama.
He has a favorite phrase:
"If you believe...
"If you believe...
"If you believe..."
Tobey Harman, 59, an art teacher from Stratham who until today had been leaning toward Clinton, began weeping during Obama's speech. She was overcome when he mentioned John F. Kennedy and his goal of putting a man on the moon -- it brought back memories of how she felt in another era. After the speech she managed to kiss Obama's hand.
"He really overwhelmed me," she said. "The whole thing about hope. It's hard to believe that anything will really change. But he says if you give up hope, forget it.
"You gotta have hope."
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