#3 Washington Meeting Notes

On April 16, 2007

Hello Everyone,

Last week, I was in Washington for a meeting of Barack’s National Finance Committee. As you might suppose, it was quite up beat.

The amount of money raised during the first quarter – thanks to so many of you was a very convincing indication of the viability of Barack’s candidacy. As you know, he raised almost 30% more money for the primary than any other candidate. But all of us in attendance were even more heartened by the amazing breadth of support – over 104,000 contributors in just 2 ½ months – from a standing start. This was almost double the number of contributors for any other candidate some of whom have been building their organizations for much longer.

Now that his national name recognition is dramatically increasing (over 20,000 people turned up for a rally at Georgia Tech this weekend) and his financial credibility has been verified, Barack told us he will turn his attention to giving a series of policy speeches and working on position papers. Tomorrow, he will make a foreign policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; I’ll be there. The first debate among the Democratic candidates will be next Thursday, April 26, in South Carolina. It will be televised on MSNBC from 6 to 7:30p CT. In this context, it was most encouraging to hear him say that, as he enters this more substantive phase of the campaign, he will “not dumb down”
his message. What a refreshing change in our political discourse that will be!

As further evidence of Barack’s intelligent and thoughtful approach, I am including below a recent article from the New York Times in case you missed it.

And here’s a potentially wonderful confluence of dates to fantasize about (especially if you’re from Chicago) – in 2016 – the Olympics are held in Chicago and someone is elected to succeed Chicago’s favorite son as he finishes his second term in the White House!

As always, click on “reply” with comments, questions, or suggestions – or to tell me if you’re tired of hearing from me.

April 8, 2007

2 Years After Big Speech, a Lower Key for Obama

By ADAM NAGOURNEY

COLO, Iowa, April 6 — Senator Barack Obama is not big on what he
calls red-meat applause lines when he campaigns in small communities
like this one, 45 miles northeast of Des Moines. He does not tell many
jokes. He talks in even, measured tones, and at times is so low-key that
he lulls his audiences into long, if respectful, silences.

Mr. Obama likes to recount the chapters of his unusual life: growing up
in Hawaii, living overseas, community organizing in Chicago, working in
the Illinois legislature, though not his years as a United States senator.
He talks — more often than not in broad, general strokes — about an
Obama White House that would provide health care to all, attack global
warming
, improve education, fix Social Security and end the war in Iraq.
His campaign events end almost as an afterthought, surprising voters
used to the big finishes typically served up by the presidential
candidates seeking their support.

“Thank you very much, everybody. Have a nice day,” Mr. Obama said
pleasantly in Dakota City one afternoon, with a leisurely wave of a hand.
He headed over to a table where copies of his books, brought by
audience members, had been neatly laid out, awaiting the slash of his
left-handed autograph.

For most Democrats, Mr. Obama is the Illinois senator who riveted the
Democratic National Convention with a keynote speech that marked
him as one of the most powerful speakers his party had produced in 50
years. But as Mr. Obama methodically worked his way across swaths of
rural northern Iowa — his tall figure and skin color making him stand
out at diners and veterans’ homes, at high schools and community
colleges — it was clear that he is not presenting himself, stylistically at
least, the way he did two years ago when he gripped Democrats at the
Fleet Center in Boston.

He is cerebral and easy-going, often talking over any applause that
might rise up from his audience, and perhaps consciously trying to
present a political style that contrasts with the more charged presences
of John Edwards, the former trial lawyer and senator from North
Carolina, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

He rarely mentions President Bush, as he disparages the partisan
quarrels of Washington, and is, at most, elliptically critical of Mr.
Edwards and Mrs. Clinton when he notes that he had opposed the war
in Iraq from the start; the two of them voted to authorize the war in
2002.

His audiences are rapt, if sometimes a tad restless; long periods can go
by when there is not a rustle in the crowd. Yet Iowa is not the Fleet
Center, and this appeal — “letting people see how I think,” as Mr.
Obama put it in an interview — could clearly go a long way in drawing
the support of Iowans who are turning out in huge numbers to see him
in the state where the presidential voting process will start.

“He’s low-key; he speaks like a professor,” said Jim Sayer, 51, a farmer
from Humboldt. “Maybe I expected more emotion. But the lower key
impresses me: He seems to be at the level that we are.”

Mary Margaret Gran, a middle-school teacher who met him when he
spoke to 25 Iowans eating breakfast at a tiny diner in Colo on Friday
morning, summed up her view the moment Mr. Obama had moved on
to the next table.

“Rock star?” Ms. Gran said, offering the description herself. “That’s the
national moniker. But dazzle is not what he is about at all. He’s
peaceful.”

Mr. Obama, wearing sunglasses as he sat in the back of a car that was
taking him to a charter plane and then on to his home in Chicago for the
Easter weekend, nodded when told what Mr. Sayer and Ms. Gran had
said about him.

“I use a different style if I’m speaking to a big crowd; I can gin up folks
pretty well,” he said. “But when I’m in these town hall settings, my job is
not to throw them a lot of red meat. I want to give them a sense of my
thought process.”

Still, the emerging style of Mr. Obama as a candidate for president, at
least in a state like this with its emphasis on smaller settings, might
startle those who knew him only from the speech that made him famous
a speech that is included prominently in the video sometimes used to
introduce him.

Yes, there are strains of the populist call of Ross Perot. “Thousands of
people across the country feel we are in this moment of time where we
might be able to take our country back,” Mr. Obama said at the Algona
High School cafeteria, packed with young students and their parents.

His language about community and shared sacrifice can be evocative of
Mario M. Cuomo’s 1984 speech to the Democratic convention. “We have
responsibilities to ourselves, but we also have mutual responsibilities, so
if a child can’t read so well, that matters to us even if they are not our
child,” he said at V.F.W. Post 5240 in Dakota City. Heads nodded among
the people surrounding him in the theater-in-the-round layout that he
prefers.

But there is also, in a historical comparison that his supporters have
tended to resist, the cool intellectualism of Adlai Stevenson who, for all
the loyalty he inspired among many Democrats in the 1950s — some of
whom still remember him fondly — lost two presidential elections. If
Mr. Obama enters the room to the sounds of “Think” by Aretha Franklin
and the roar of people coming to their feet, clapping and jostling for
photographs, it is only moments before the atmosphere turns from
campaign rally to college seminar, when he talks, for example, about the
need for a “common sense, nonideological, practical-minded, generous
agenda for change in this country.”

This evolution, or more precisely this attention to Mr. Obama’s
credentials as a campaigner in communities like this, comes in a week in
which he has, with the report that he had nearly matched Mrs. Clinton
by raising $25 million in the first quarter of presidential fund-raising,
left no doubt that he had the resources and, presumably the popular
support, to potentially deny her the nomination.

For Mr. Obama, his reception in Iowa has certainly changed since he
came here after announcing his presidential bid in February, trailing
enough reporters, press aides, advisers, family members and friends to
fill a Boeing 767. Then, he was nearly suffocated at every campaign
event with people craning for a look or a handshake or an autograph, or
television crews shouting out a question.

This week, mostly far from the bigger cities of Iowa, there was much less
press and staff, and the crowds, while still big, were manageable. Mr.
Obama has developed a system for handling all the people who brought
copies of his books to sign. “If you can put your name in the book and
hand it to my staff after we’re done, I’ll sign them all at once,” he said.

Things have cooled off enough to permit Mr. Obama, dressed in his
signature open-collared white shirt and loose-hanging black sports coat,
to linger until almost the last person is gone. This more casual setting
has revealed Mr. Obama to be a tactile campaigner; his bony hand
grabbing elbows and hands, his long arms thrown over shoulders,
drawing voters close in conversation.

And it allowed for moments like one that took place at the V.F.W. Hall
in Dakota City, after almost everyone had gone. Mr. Obama was
approached by a woman, her eyes wet. She spoke into his ear and began
to weep, collapsing into his embrace. They stood like that for a full
minute, Mr. Obama looking ashen, before she pulled away. She began
crying again, Mr. Obama pulled her in for another embrace.

The woman left declining to give her name or recount their
conversation. Mr. Obama said she told him what had happened to her
20-year-old son, who was serving in Iraq.

“Her son died,” he said. He paused. “What can you say? This happens to
me every single place I go.”

The next day, at the rally here, Mr. Obama described the encounter for
the crowd. The woman, he said, had asked if her son’s death was the
result of a mistake by the government. “And I told her the service of our
young men and women — the duty they show this country — that’s never
a mistake,” he said.

He paused carefully as he reflected on that encounter. “It reminds you
why you get into politics,” he said. “It reminds you that this isn’t a
game.”

Please pass it on,

Chuck

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