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nhpols.com - Obama Runs a Different Kind of Campaign in N.H.

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nhpols.com - Obama Runs a Different Kind of Campaign in N.H.

Beth LaMontagne

Since U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., announced he was running for president, he has promised to run a different kind of campaign that focuses on delivering a different kind of government. In his campaign speeches, he emphasizes hope and crushing the cynicism that dominates current political thought.

On Friday, Obama spoke to over 600 people about these ideas at the Marston Elementary School in Hampton. He covered various issues, like the war in Iraq, health care and education, and answered questions from the crowd, but throughout, there was a common theme: people can get things done when they come together.

"Don't let people get you thinking we can't solve our problems," Obama told the crowd.Obama's different kind of campaign is not only about the message, but the way in which that message is delivered.

Last month, the New Hampshire campaign launched a series of faith forums where church leaders came together and discussed the role that religion plays in public life and how their political beliefs could better reflect their religious beliefs.

This month, the campaign has planned a number of child advocacy programs that will foster discussions with people interested or working in that field. What is unique about these programs, Reid Cherlin, press secretary for the New Hampshire Obama for America campaign, said is that they are not merely a candidate or surrogate speaking to a group of people. These advocates discuss how to also take action themselves.

"No other campaign is reaching out to people this way," said Cherlin. "They're there to listen, come together as a community to effect change. ... It's much more involving and it puts much more emphasis on people themselves. This is based on the kind of community organizing work Obama did as a young man. A lot of these folks are already out there doing work on these important issues."

The New Hampshire Obama campaign has also started a number of book discussion groups. The initiative, called From Doubt to Hope, puts Obama's first book, Dreams From My Father, in the hands of undecided voters in hopes they will get to know the candidate better.

At the launch of the From Doubt to Hope initiative, Michael Kruglik, a Chicago community organizer who worked with Obama, said the book provides immense insight into Obama, as a leader and as a person.

"If you don't know him personally, reading this book is a close as you can come ... to not only knowing Barack Obama, but the closest you can come to knowing any of the presidential candidates," Kruglik said.

Christine Davidson, a former teacher who is leading one of the Obama book clubs, said she was drawn to the senator because she "was very tired of dishonesty in government." She's also tired of the "bumbling we've had with George Bush," and likes that Obama is articulate and "intellectually organized."

Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said he thinks Obama is consciously targeting his campaign to reach intellectual and highly educated voters. "I think there is a sense that the Clinton organization is stronger in the blue collar sector of the state," he said. "You have to kind to pick battles."

Cherlin said he disagreed with this take on the campaign, adding "it's not about the demographic of the voters; it's about [their] interest and expertise."

Whether the campaign planned to target educated Democratic voters, Obama has gained a lot of support from that demographic. In a recent CNN/WMUR poll, 56 percent of Obama supporters had a college or post-graduate degree. That is compared with U.S. Census data that showed 30 percent of New Hampshire residents hold a college degree.

Smith said that people who have higher degrees or are considered to be in the state's "political elite or social elite," usually have a more idealistic view of politics and "they tend to have a romantic attachment to a campaign." He mentioned former presidential candidates Gary Hart, Howard Dean and former President Bill Clinton as examples.

Smith said that the split amongst blue collar Democrats, who typically live in the Manchester area, and more well-educated Democrats, who tend to live in the Seacoast area, is a common one and the candidate who appeals to the more traditional, working-class kind of Democrat usually fares better in the New Hampshire primary.

This wasn't the case last fall during the state Democratic congressional race primary, though. The Manchester-based party favorite was then-state House Majority Leader Jim Craig. His opponent, and now the state's congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, had a strong hold on her home region of the Seacoast.

Smith added that the party doesn't always split along these lines and the candidate "that can build a winning coalition for November can win both groups."


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