Obama addresses small N.H. crowd
By James W. Pindell
With snow falling steadily outside, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois looked almost embarrassed when Carol Theobald stood up during a question-and-answer session with retirement home residents and said, " You had us from your first hello."
The gathering yesterday at Earl M. Bourdon Centre provided an intimate and congenial setting for the Democratic presidential hopeful, with fewer than 100 people packed into an activity room decorated for St. Patrick's Day and an electronic bingo scoreboard on the wall.
In Obama's two previous visits to New Hampshire, which will hold the nation's first primary in the 2008 campaign, Obama has spoken to crowds of thousands. Even a simple downtown walk in Concord last month required a rope line to control the crowds.
He was scheduled to hold a large rally in Keene last night, but his campaign canceled it because of the late-winter storm.
Earlier in the day, Obama met privately with locally elected officials at the home of state Senate President Sylvia Larsen in Concord.
In Claremont, Obama took questions on Iraq, prescription drugs, tax cuts, climate change, and whether he believes President Bush could be compared to Adolf Hitler. (He doesn't.)
Many people said they were unsure about him before the event, but it was hard to find a person who didn't profess support after hearing him.
"He was so sincere, and not just a politician talking just to talk," said Barbara Clark, 76, one of 88 residents who live at the home. "It was the biggest event in my life since the birth of my granddaughter four years ago."
But Ray Gagnon, former Claremont mayor, was not joining in all the gushing after the event.
"I kept watching him thinking he is so great, but then there is the experience thing," said Gagnon. "I mean he says he's had 10 years in elected office. Well, so did I on the City Council. Does that count?"
This retirement home, named after a local union leader and staunch Democrat, is on the traditional presidential campaign trail. In this and previous campaigns, candidates, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, also met with residents.