Associated Press - Obama Hits Streets in Grass-Roots Effort
By Mike Glover
Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama hit the streets Saturday in what he said was an unprecedented grass-roots focus as the campaign for the nomination begins to take shape in a handful of states which hold early tests of strength.
"What we are kicking off this weekend is what we are claiming is the biggest grass-roots canvass, this early, in presidential campaign history," said Obama. "We have people canvassing from New York to San Diego, all across the country."
Obama, a first-term senator from neighboring Illinois, joined about 250 volunteers going door-to-door in heavily Catholic Dubuque, part of an intense focus on grass-roots efforts in Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the nominating season.
In all, 1,500 backers were spending the weekend banging on doors in 38 cities across the state, including 150 in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids and 250 in Iowa City, all Democratic strongholds where candidates must build campaign organizations to score well in caucuses next winter.
Most polls have shown Obama among the top tier of candidates in Iowa, and around the country, and he was seeking to add some organizational muscle to his strong poll showings.
"In our history, change has always come from the bottom up," said Obama. "In a presidential campaign we've become so accustomed to TV ads and big money and big fundraisers and debates."
Obama said he would take his case directly to the grass roots, in hopes of developing a mandate for change should he succeed in winning the White House. Media-driven campaigns often don't lead to that kind of change.
"The fact is that is not how change happens," said Obama. "You can elect a president who says all the right things, but if the American people aren't energized and mobilized to put pressure and hold our government officials accountable, then the lobbyists and the special interests will intervene, they will block, they will parry and they will prevent the kind of change that is needed."
If he can succeed in lighting a fire at the grass-roots level, Obama said, all that can change.
"The reason we are canvassing today is to make sure that everybody in Dubuque and across the country understands we're in one of those moments where we can really make a difference."
Obama sought to fire up his backers, speaking from the back of a pickup truck before hitting the streets himself for a little door knocking.
"I hope everybody put on their walking shoes," said Obama, "I hope everybody's ready to get some exercise."
Obama spent more than an hour pounding on doors and chatting on porches, an occasionally comic affair as a couple of dozen reporters and photographers, along with a contingent of security forces and campaign staffers disrupted a quiet neighborhood on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Obama pitched his health care plan and heard worries about soaring gas prices prices he said he couldn't fix quickly and got a generally positive response.
Obama said his grass-roots effort has convinced him that voters are ready for his message.
"It's a testimony to the degree to which people are so invested in change," said Obama, "They are hungry and they want to turn the page. I can't do it by myself and that's why I'm here today."
Obama has sought to add muscle to his effort with a big staff of field organizers deployed around the state, and aides said he will step up the pace of his campaign visits heading into Iowa's leadoff caucuses.