Campaigns & Elections - Obama Goes Grass-Roots To Show It's Not Just About Change
By Beth LaMontagne
To those critics who say U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., lacks the experience to become president -- watch out, because he's taking them head-on.
Obama has been in New Hampshire for the last three days in hopes of solidly positioning himself as the candidate for change in the eyes of primary voters, according to his state campaign staff. While this has been a theme throughout his campaign, Obama took the idea to the next level this week, repeatedly challenging the "conventional thinking" in Washington that he is too inexperienced or too progressive to get the job done.
Reid Cherlin, the New Hampshire spokesperson for the Obama campaign, said the senator spent a lot of time this trip meeting with voters in smaller venues and at house parties as a way to better convey his message.
"He wanted to give undecided and independent voters the chance to see him up close, ask tough questions," said Cherlin. "It's the best way for folks to get a sense of who he is."
"The reason I think people are participating like never before in this campaign is that people want to be for something, not just against something," said Obama. "People sense that it's not going to be enough just to change parties and expect something different. Obviously I'm a strong Democrat ... but I also know the problem with our health care system and the education system ... preceded this administration and it has to do with the fact lobbyist ands special interest are entrenched and the American people are not heard."
Much of his speech contained veiled and not-so-veiled jabs at U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and the other Democratic candidates on the war in Iraq, their claims of experience and their ability to win the general election. To start the country in a new direction, it takes more than a slim victory in 2008, said Obama. "If all we do is eke out a victory and our country is divided ... we're not going to solve our problems," he said.
Obama, in mentioning the Democratic presidential debate aired on ABC earlier that day, took aim at those who question whether he is qualified to be commander-in-chief.
"All the folks on the stage, all of whom had voted for the war in Iraq were explaining how their experience made them more qualified and I thought to myself, 'with that kind of experience I don't want it,'" Obama said.
As he closed to make his exit, he again addressed those who are not yet convinced he has the ability to lead the country.
"The reason my wife and I decided to do this, I think we have this particular window to rally the country around a purpose ... and I don't think there is anyone else in the race that can do that," he said.
Dean Spiliotes, a New Hampshire political analyst, said shifting the focus on Obama's ability to lead is exactly what the campaign need to do right now. The voters he's casually spoken with across the state generally like Obama's message, but are not yet convinced about his leadership skills.
"The [campaign] initially wanted to present him as the candidate as change, I think they've accomplished that," said Spiliotes. "But now my sense is they need to say he is the candidate of change but he can also get stuff done."
Dante Scala, professor of politics at the University of New Hampshire said this message is a way for the Obama campaign to define their candidate as different and better than the rest of the pack.
"I think he's contrasting experience with good judgment," said Scala. "I think it's a way to separate himself from the usual suspects. What he's saying is, Look at the Washington Democrats and what their experience has got them."