The Texas Star: Obama Campaign Keeps Rising
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Like a good soldier, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) dutifully campaigned in Texas on Friday, delivering a gritty, determined and focused speech on her qualifications to be commander in chief to 1,000 people at a midday rally in Waco, a poor, small city in the state's Bible Belt.
But while Clinton stood on a stage with retired top military officers and veterans from conflicts dating back to World War II, including ex-NATO commander Wesley Clark, her opponent Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) held what could only be described as a political rock concert Friday night in San Antonio, where perhaps 5,000 people turned out in a city whose large Latino population has been touted as one of Clinton's strongholds.
Indeed, as Dorothy Dean, a longtime political organizer in Dallas who ran Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns in the southern part of that city and delivered historic Democratic turnouts in prior elections, said in an interview Thursday, the state seems poised for an Obama victory on Tuesday, March 4 -- not because there is anything wrong with Clinton, but because Obama has touched a deeper, once-in-a-generation nerve.
"I know Hillary. I have talked to her personally," Dean said. "I have nothing against her. She is knowledgeable. She's smart. She knows what she's doing. But this is a new wave. It's a new day. It's a new time. And the people have heard the same old promises. They don't know if Obama can deliver. But at least they want to give him a try."
Dean, who has worked in local politics for four-plus decades explained.
"That's the movement," she said. "That's the hope. And he didn't coin that phrase. The people who heard him, who listened to him, they found that. He brings hope to the people of the country. That's why they jumped on his bandwagon. That's why they believe his message. And so, whereas I'm old and maybe should be thinking in the past, I am for progress. I am for the future, for my children, grand-children, great-grand children. I want it better than it used to be."
Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns are running hard, competent campaigns. They have urged supporters to vote early or vote on Election Day and then attend local caucuses where more delegates are chosen. In Texas, Democrats elect two-thirds of their 193 delegates in precinct voting. The other third are chosen in local caucuses. Both campaigns are urging supporters to do the "Texas Two Step," meaning they effectively get to vote twice for their presidential nominee.
Hillary's Waco Rally
The Waco Convention Center sits in the middle of that small city's struggling downtown. Home to Baylor University, a conservative Baptist school, a M&M Mars candy factory and many businesses that support nearby Ft. Hood, the city and surrounding area has a conservative slice of the electorate that Texas pundits have said Clinton must win to offset Obama's support in the state's largest cities.
Inside the hall, a large American flag hangs behind a stage. On each side are risers filled with a mix of mostly White voters. Like the rest of the audience, there are many older people, young mothers and children -- schools were closed on Friday -- college students and a handful of businessman. On stage sat three rows of decorated veterans, all wearing jackets and hats with insignias from their service. In the front row, in blazers, crisp shirts and ties were a half dozen retired generals and admirals.
"You are aware how conservative this town is," said Julie Ed, whose husband works at nearby Fort Hood and has teenage children. "I am a minority in the neighborhood that I live in. There are only a handful of Democrats." Like others in the room, she had long-decided to support Clinton. "I am Hillary all the way," she said. "I like everything that she stands for. She has great experience. She can work with Republicans. She is not so liberal that things will fall apart ... Obama is too new. I think he has great ideas. He is an awesome speaker. His time is yet to come. Plus, we need a woman in the White House."
The commander of a San Antonio chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars introduced Clinton -- after brief remarks by Wesley Clark. On Friday, the campaign began running a new television ad that featured a hotline phone ringing in the White House at three in the morning -- and asking viewers who they would trust to respond in a crisis.
"This morning our campaign introduced an ad that illustrates just how this works," said Clark, "because the phone rings and we have to have the right person answer that phone. Hillary Rodham Clinton has studied foreign affairs. She has seen it first-hand. She has been in the White House when the phone rings." Turning to Clinton, who stood beside him at the podium, Clark said, "I guess you have been at that bedside."
Clinton was greeted with a rousing ovation and began her remarks by acknowledging all the supporters and retired senior military officers on stage. She then began a speech on national security and what was needed in a commander in chief. She reminded people that America was fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. She recalled her visits overseas to war zones, as First Lady and a senator, and said soldiers were "America's finest."
Transitioning to the campaign, she recalled meeting veterans from Iraq who have stopped her when shaking hands to urge her to help injured soldiers -- in Iraq and back home. She said she would be "a commander in chief that our troops deserve," saying as president she would face ongoing crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur, and "rising challenges" from Russia, China, Latin America, global warming, global health pandemics, and the threat of terrorism.
"I understand completely when that phone rings at three in the morning," she said. "There isn't time to consult your advisers, to take a poll. You need a person to make decisions. We need a president ready to decide."
Then Clinton began her criticism of Obama's on national security issues.
"Sen. Obama says if we talk about national security, we are trying to scare people," she said. "Well, I don't think Texans scare easily. There's a big difference between giving speeches on national security and giving orders as commander in chief. There is a big difference between giving a speech as a state senator at an anti-war rally and picking up the phone in the White House -- the difference between making a speech where you have no responsibility and having to step up and take charge."
Clinton said there has never been a presidential campaign where national security was not an issue and that she was better-positioned than Obama to confront Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the likely Republican nominee. Speaking of McCain, she said she would start bringing the troops home from Iraq. "I think it takes strength to know when to bring the troops home and it is time."
She then criticized President Bush for not going after Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and for failing to properly equip soldiers in Iraq and take care of veterans at home. She said she would support a new GI bill for returning soldiers, remove bureaucratic barriers that prevent vets from getting needed health care, and promised to fully fund the Veterans Administration. She also criticized the Bush White House for "cold-hearted policies" such as rescinding signing bonuses from injured soldiers who can no longer fight.
"No one knows better than our veterans the difference between speeches and action," she said. "It takes hard work. It is time to honor the service of those who served, not just with words but with deeds. I promise you this, that I will fight in the White House as hard as you have fought for our country."
Clinton also touched on other domestic priorities. She cited proposals for universal health care, creating new green-collar jobs in the renewable energy sector, making college more affordable, ending tax giveaways to the rich, embarking on a new era of diplomacy and making "government work for the middle class."
She also asked people to vote for her and join her campaign as precinct captains for Tuesday's vote and caucus in Texas' 8,000 polling places.
"I am specific," she said, wrapping up her remarks. "I do not want you to take me on a leap of faith ... This is a hiring decision. The best way to find out what someone will do is look at what they have done ... I am not asking you to vote for me, but to vote for yourselves -- your family, your health care, your child's education, you loved ones who have been in harm's way."
Obama in San Antonio
In contrast, the Obama rally in San Antonio was a political rock concert. Rows and rows of cars filled a large parking lot outside the Verizon Arena on the city's outskirts. People hawking Obama tee-shirts and buttons greeted people on the long walk into the big open-air venue. This was an arena where you would see touring bands and pop stars. Once inside, the seats under the canopy were filled to capacity with thousands of supporters. A sound system belted out "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" while spotlights beamed "Fired Up" and "Ready To Go" on walls on both sides of the stage.
A giant American flag hung over the stage, with Obama's trademark "Change We Can Believe In" banner underneath. As in most Obama events, three rows of seats lined the stage, filled with local organizers and volunteers. They all held smaller blue-and-white "Change We Can Believe In" posters. Surprised by the turnout, I turned to a man seated behind me, who brought his kids, and asked, "Isn't this Hillary country?"
"But with her supporting the war, this is mostly a military town and a lot of families have people shipped overseas," replied Rev. Chris Minor, with Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. "We didn't want that war. They didn't want that war."
Minor said the audience was typical San Antonio -- a mix of all races but with many parents bringing their children. "What is so important for me," he said," is we have so many young people here. They are seeing that they do have hope. There is a brighter tomorrow. There is a ray of sunshine. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This transcends race and religion. Everyone feels included in the plan. It gives a whole new meaning to 'We The People.'"
The sound system played "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" and then a veteran turned schoolteacher walked on stage and introduced Obama. As the candidate came out, he received a thunderous ovation. Obama thanked the audience a dozen times but they kept on clapping and cheering. He asked them to sit down, and began thanking his volunteers and urged people to vote, and to help others to do the same on Tuesday.
Obama began his speech by recounting his decision to run for the presidency. As in many speeches, he spoke of his "unlikely journey to change America" that he said was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s writings about "the fierce urgency of now." Obama quickly sketched the nation's ills: people working harder for less; high gas and energy prices; difficulties saving money; inadequate or overly costly health insurance; struggling schools; high drop-out rates for people of color; global warming. He then said, as he often does, that these problems demand action now, not at some future more convenient time.
Obama said he was willing to bet that many Americans felt as he did -- that massive change was needed -- and said that as he has campaigned for the past year that people across America have validated his premise for running. "I am here to report that my faith has paid off," he said, "because everywhere I go, people want to turn a new page in American history ... Yes we can ... Si se puede ... That's what I am hearing from the American people."
Obama continued to sketch America's problems, citing predatory lending by banks to homeowners. He talked about teachers buying school supplies with their own money. He said the high costs of college left students with "a mortgage before they bought a home." He said veterans should be very proud of their service, but the federal government had not kept its promises to take care of them on their return.
Then Obama began the section of his speech prefaced by, "if you are ready for change ..." that listed solutions. He talked about providing health care for the uninsured and lowering costs for those already with insurance. He talked about ending tax breaks for companies that export jobs overseas and deprive workers of pensions. He talked about expanding federal support for education at all levels, from pre-school through college. As he said public schools should be teaching art, music, poetry and science, the crowd loudly cheered. Obama said college students should get a $4,000 tuition credit, but there was a catch: mandatory public service. "We invest in you. You invest in us. We march forward into the future."
Obama continued by saying the country needed to break its oil addiction and Detroit needed to make the cars of the future, not the past. "One of the things you need from the next president is someone who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear," he said. And America needs a foreign policy "that makes sense." He said the war in Iraq does not "make sense" and pledged to end it in 2009.
He then addressed Clinton's latest ad, featuring the "red phone moment."
"The question is not about picking up the phone," he said. "The question is what kind of judgment will the person picking up the phone have; Senator Clinton may not be aware, but she had her red phone moment. She picked up the phone and gave the wrong answer (on Iraq). John McCain picked up the phone and gave the wrong answer. And George W. Bush picked up the phone and gave the wrong answer."
Summing up, he said, "You won't see me trying to scare up votes using the threat of terrorism."
As in most of his speeches, Obama said neither he nor his supporters were being niave or idealistic for wanting sweeping change. He recited the criticisms -- that his agenda was not based in real-world or pragmatic Washington thinking. He then replied with a newer caveat. He said he was sure there were people in the audience who have struggled in their lives with tough issues, but many people hoped their problems would be solved. And they have worked hard to make it so, Obama said, just as he would work to solve America's problems.
"Imagining and then fighting for, and then working for what did not seem possible before -- that is the chance that we have in this election," he said. "We may not solve every problem, but let's start solving health care for every person ... Let's start solving this immigration problem ... Let's start creating a world that is less dangerous ... This is the choice we have right now."
And with that, Obama asked San Antonio voters to support him at the polls on Tuesday and then go to caucuses afterward. "If you stand with me, and organize with me, we will win Texas," he said. "We will win the nomination ... We will win this election ... We will change the country and change the world."
AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of " What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election ," with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).