Obama draws crowd of over 5000

The first buzz of the day came when Bill Burton of the Obama camp sent out an email announcing two people who served alongside former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for the past eight years were set to endorse Obama. 

Shortly after noon, the president of Iowa State University Democrats stood behind the microphone and dissolved into giggles as she introduced State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to the crowd, then Obama.  The O’Jay’s song "Give the People What They Want" played over the sound system as Obama made his way down through one section of the arena seating, shaking hands with people sitting on the ends of their rows. 

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald was the first to speak, and a short poll of Iowa reporters found none of us had ever seen him so animated or charged up.  "Are you guys ready to elect Barack Obama as president of the Untied States?" Fitzgerald began.  "I’ll tell ya, right now, I’m a Story County boy.  I feel safe here.  My brother, Paul, is the county sheriff, doing a heckuva job, but I’ll tell you more importantly I’m happy to be here in Story County and I’m here to tell you that today I’m endorsing Senator Obama and co-chairing his campaign.  I couldn’t be prouder of anything in my life." (the crowd applauded)

"Just like you, making a decision about who you’re going to support, the first thing I look for is this a good and decent man and he’s a good and decent man," Fitzgerald continued.  "The next thing: I want somebody that has good judgement.  We don’t know what kind of problems they’re going to face in the next four years, but we can tell by looking (at) what they’ve done in the past and he’s the only candidate out there that was against this crazy war from the git-go.  That’s the kind of judgement I want."

"But I think maybe the most important thing is this country needs to have somebody that has the capacity to bring us all together as a country again to work for the common good and Senator Obama is that guy.  He can be our president," Fitzgerald said.  "Well, I’m not the only one that’s endorsing the fine senator today and I want to introduce to you somebody you know well, my best friend, somebody who I respect more than anyone else in politics and government.  He’s served Iowa so well and that’s our great Attorney General Tom Miller."

As Fitzgerald’s BFF walked to the mic, music played but it was so short I didn’t recognize it. 

"Thanks, Mike.  He is my best friend in state government," Miller began, as the crowd responded with an "ahhh" and laughter, then Miller asked for another round of applause for his BFF.

"I want to tell you why I’m supporting Barack Obama for governor," Miller started, then everyone laughed, including Fitzgerald and Obama.  "We just had a gubernatorial race here.  You know I believe that when this country is in difficult times and needs great leadership, those leaders come and I truly believe that this man is an extraordinary leader at a difficult time." (The crowd applauded.)

"I say that because of the qualities that he possesses.  He’s got the charisma and there’s no substitue for charisma in this business. Both as a candidate and as a president, he’s able to give that speech that inspires us and leads us.  He’s a truly remarkably intelligent man.  He and I went to the same law school and I was in the middle of the class but he, perhaps, was the smartest person to go to Harvard Law School in the last 25 years." (The crowd applauded)

"But it’s not enough just to be smart.  You have to connect with people and, oh, can he do that.  He’s got a touch, a reach, an understanding for people.  He’s off the charts in terms of connecting with individuals and with the American public.  As Mike said, he’s got the right judgement.  He made the right call on Iraq and he’s the only (applause) he’s the only major candidate in either party that had the right judgement on the most difficult and the most important issue of our day and he’s got the vision. You need vision, too.  He’s got the vision of a different America, an America where the special interest doesn’t rule, where the public interest, the interst of ordinary Americans is paramount and he sees a different political structure and a different environment in Washington along those lines and less partisanship.  A great, great vision.

"As Mike said, he’s got the personal qualities, too.  He’s decent.  He’s fair.  He cares for people.  He reaches out.  When he left Columbia as a graduate of Columbia Universty he took a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year," Miller said, then someone in the crowd let out a whoop, and the crowd laughed.  "Because he believed in people.  When he left Harvard Law School and could have gotten any job in America with any coroporation or any law firm, he started his own civil rights firm to work for people." (crowd applauds)

"When you add that all up, he is an extraordinary leader.  And one more thought for me to leave with you:  imagine President Barack Obama in the world as a world leader," Miller said.  The crowd applauded.  "One of the great tragedies of this administration is how George Bush related to the world." (more applause)  "This man would be 180 degrees.  Diplomacy would work.  The world would be more peaceful and more safe and better place to live under President Barak Obama." (crowd applauded)

"This is going to be a great campaign.  Mike and I and many others have joined it this weekend.  I would ask you to now or later join in this candidacy.  You will never regret it.  You will always be proud of supporting this man and if enough of us do it, we’ll be proud of him as President of the United States." (crowd applauds)

"I give you the man that Mike and I hope is the next president:  Barack Obama," Miller concluded.  Obama let out a "Hey" as the sound tech briefly pumped up the volume on that O’Jay’s song again. 

"How’s it going Ames?" Obama began.  "How is it going Ames?  Look at you guys.  Goodness.  Now you guys know the Cyclones play not tonight, for those of you who came for the basketball game."

Obama then launched into a round of thank yous.  He menionted the Harkin steak fry as the first time he’d met Tom Miller.  "You went to the steak fry, too?" Obama asked the crowd.  "It was pretty good, I’ve got to admit."

"…There’s one other thing I have to do.  I have to make a correction.  Tom said that I was one of the smartest folks to go to Harvard Law School.  I just have to right now make a correct.  The smartest person I know that went to Harvard Law School is actually my wife, Michelle Obama, so just want to be clear," Obama said, laughing as the crowd applauded.  "My wife who is smarter than me, tougher than me, definitely better looking than me.  There are a lot of young people here today.  You men:  your goal should be to marry a woman who is superior than you so that you can, you want to improve your DNA.  That’s your goal and I succeeded in that process." . 

Obama then launched into his speech, and the Radio Iowa story picks up the highlights.

Obama and Kay

As mentioned at the end of that story, I interviewed Obama after the speech.  Tommy Vietor, an Obama press aide, ushered me and Charlotte Eby of the Lee Newspapers into one of the locker rooms in Hilton Colesium.  Obama was sitting in a chair, eating carrots. 

He greeted us, shook our hands, and then asked: "A tag team?"

"Good cop, bad cop," Eby quickly replied. 

"Which one’s the good one and which one’s the bad one?" Obama asked.

Obama asked each of us how long we’d had our jobs, and in the process of these pleasantries he pulled out his Blackberry. After a brief discussion of his level of addiction (to the Blackberry, not nicotine), we began the interview.

Henderson:  "I think it was St. Augustine who said the parents of hope are anger and courage. Aren’t you tapping into the anger of your party with your discussion and emphasis on the war?"

Obama:  "Well, look, we have good cause to be angry.  Not just Democrats but Republicans and Independent expressed frustration during this last election cycle.  I think they’re angry at how we got into the war.  I think they’re angry that we haven’t had a more thoughtful process for pulling out but what I’m trying to do also is take that anger and translate it into hope and a sense of a more positive future because I do believe that although in this last election cycle there was a rejection of the Republican agenda, particularly the hard-right agenda that was comign out of this administration, I think it’s true that Democrats have still not won over a consensus of the country that would allow them to lead forcefully on some of these issues and that’s, I think, the job of the next presidential candidate and the next president."

Henderson:  "You talk about an awakening. What is your idea of an awakening?"

Obama:  "I mean, part of it is to make politics fun and interesting again and you know, it was a wonderful conversation I had with some young people, student leaders from college campuses all across Iowa (as he rode last night) from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo and they told me that their friends don’t want to be involved in politics because the image they have are these hacks who are saying mean things about people and bickering all the time and bothering people, making phone calls while they’re eating dinner and that’s just not something that they want to be a part of.  Well, there’s another aspect of politics, right, which is helping to lead the civil rights movement, making sure that young people all across the country had a voice in the Vietnam War, you know. So I think lifting up those examples where participation has led to positive change is absolutely critical."

Eby:  "You’ve come out with this message of hope.  At some point you’ll have to make the case about experience as well. How will you make that case?"

Obama:  "Well, I think that if they look at my body of work not only in Washington but also in the state legislature they’ll see that I’ve got a track record of accomplishment that matches or exceeds most of the people in this race.  I’ve not only dealt with issues like proliferation and ethics reform in the two years that I’ve been in Washington, but prior to that I’ve provided health care to kids that didn’t have it.  I’ve reformed a death penalty system that was broken in Illinois and so I think what voters are going to be looking at is Do I have the body of experience that allows me not only to deal in Washington but also to listen and pay attention to the struggles and hopes and dreams of everyday people of Iowa and elsewhere across the country."

Eby asked a question about Iraq.

Obama:  "I think the Iraq war will dominate our politics for quite some time because the problem of Iraq has not been solved.  We’ve still got young men and women dying over there and that is still going to be a pressing issue.  Now, it’s not going to be the only issue.  One fo the things that I hope for is a discussion not just about how to deal with Iraq but how to create a broader foreign policy framework that can help us meet the challenges of the 21st century and domestically we’ve got major challenges on health care, energy, revamping our education system and creating more justice in terms of how the burdens and benefits of this global economy are distributed.  Those are all issues we’ll have to address but Iraq will be something that we’re going to unfortunately be burdened with for some time to come."

There were a couple of other questions, then at the end, Obama made this declaration.

"I don’t plan to lose Iowa," Obama said.  "…We’re confident that if we do what we need to do and work hard here that we’ll do just fine."

Obama spoke at a news conference in Ames shortly before the rally. [Download/Listen 22 min MP3]

Obama’s first campaign event today (Sunday) was a "house party" in Iowa Falls that wound up attracting about 200 people.  According to pool reporter Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, Obama spoke for about 15 minutes — a little bit about his biography with some of the passages from his Saturday announcement speech thrown in.  Obama answered questions for nearly half an hour.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Nicely done, Kay. Appreciate your sharing this.