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Concord Monitor - Hodes Joins Obama's Campaign

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Concord Monitor - Hodes Joins Obama's Campaign

Daniel Barrick

Even as he was touting his freshest endorsement to a crowd in Concord yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama warned his audience not to expect too much.

"We'll never win the most endorsements, because we haven't been in Washington long enough," Obama said. "We haven't traded that many favors."

Favors or not, Obama thanked U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes yesterday for announcing his support for Obama's presidential bid. Hodes, a Democrat who was elected to Congress last year, is the first member of New Hampshire's congressional delegation to back a presidential candidate. He will serve as a national co-chairman of Obama's campaign, one of four co-chairman working for the Illinois Democrat.

It was a well-coordinated announcement, with both politicians flying in from Washington, D.C., yesterday morning to greet several hundred supporters jammed into Eagle Square. Hodes told the crowd that Obama was the candidate most able to bring fresh ideas to the White House.

"What he's shown is an ability to bring people together around the idea of change and a new direction," Hodes said.

The two men described each other as newcomers to Washington - Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004 - and said they shared a commitment to reform. Obama said voters who elected Democrats such as Hodes last year were voicing their frustration with "conventional thinking that stops us from moving forward."

Obama has centered his candidacy on a promise to bring a new perspective to the presidency, and he sounded that note constantly yesterday. He spoke of a contrast between the "fundamental change" he claimed to stand for and the "incremental change" he said is standard in politics.

"We have to fundamentally reconceive how we use energy in this country," Obama said. "It's good for our environment, it's good for our economy, it's good for our foreign policy. . . . We need a fundamental change in how America works."

Hodes was elected to Congress last year by upsetting Charlie Bass, a Republican who had occupied the seat for 12 years. The win propelled Hodes to the top of the Democratic pecking order in New Hampshire, so his endorsement is a major snag for Obama. But with just a few months of elected office under his belt, Hodes can't necessarily count on a broad base of support that can be easily transferred through an endorsement. A poll last week from the University of New Hampshire reported that 44 percent of residents in his district say they either have no opinion of Hodes or don't know enough about him.

In a brief interview yesterday, Hodes acknowledged that his endorsement would play a "small role" in the overall election.

"But I probably play a slightly different role than a congressman from a state that doesn't have the first primary," he added.

Hodes traced his support for Obama to a quick visit the candidate paid to Concord in February, where she shook hands with shoppers and workers along Main Street.

"We knew that this was someone who connected with people in an absolute direct way," Hodes recalled. "He had the self-confidence that's the sign of a great leader."

Obama delivered a short stump speech after Hodes gave his endorsement yesterday, throwing jabs at common Democratic targets like the oil industry and drug companies. But he also lashed out against Sen. Hillary Clinton, another candidate in the Democratic primary, in an increasingly tense war of words between the two campaigns.

In a debate Monday, Obama said, as president, he would promise to meet personally with the leaders of North Korea and Iran. Clinton dismissed that as a naïve approach that would allow the president to be manipulated by foreign leaders who consider themselves enemies of the United States.

Obama took the criticism head-on yesterday, saying Clinton's stance was identical to President Bush's policy of not meeting with hostile foreign leaders.

"I don't want more Bush-Cheney," he said. "I don't want Bush-Cheney lite. The times are over when talking tough or refusing to talk to your enemies is an emblem of toughness. We will meet and talk and discuss our values and our ideals, because our values and our ideals, when we're true to them, are ideas and values the entire world looks to."

In an interview with CNN yesterday afternoon, Clinton laughed off the comparison to Bush and said, "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" a sarcastic reference to Obama's campaign slogan.

After the politicians spoke, supporters pushed against the barriers, like fans at a baseball game, holding out photographs for Obama to sign. As the morning sunshine crept across Eagle Square, the crowd swayed, sweatily, to old Motown and soul hits playing over loudspeakers provided by the campaign.

Ricky Hanson, 15, of Nashua offered a campaign poster and a sharpie to Obama. He said it was the first autograph he'd picked up from a candidate, though he looks forward to more campaign visits.

"It was pretty cool, all the energy," Hanson said.


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