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Portland's Got a crush on Obama

I've attended a fair number of political rallies, although I must admit that I've only seen one presidential candidate speak live (when he was running for president). Still, it feels fair to say that I've never seen more rabid political fans than those who filled the Portland Expo Center this evening to hear presidential candidate Barack Obama speak.  It inspired my curiousity: Obama may be falling behind in the polls, but is there any other candidate who incites such elation in his or her supporters? I honestly don't know the answer, but I want to.

The room was sweltering, and Obama, tall and lean, entered in a blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, top button undone. His lips don't look purple from a distance. He said he had a head cold, and warned the audience that he might sound like Elmer Fudd, but his voice boomed throughout the arena.

Obama was speaking in Maine, but his sights were on our neighbor to the south/west, where a primary win could change the momentum of the 2008 presidential race. Before the senator took the stage, Obama's statewide coordinator in New Hampshire, Brian Sullivan, exhorted the audience to join that state's volunteers in gathering support and door-knocking efforts. Obama too asked the crowd to forego the "easier choices" -- presumably, getting swept away by the Hillary wave -- and actively join his campaign.

He never mentioned Clinton by name -- he saved the naming of names for the really bad guys, like George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Scooter Libby -- but she was present throughout his speech. She was there when he highlighted his early and vocal opposition to the war in Iraq; she was there when he claimed his lack of Washington-insider experience was in fact a boon ("A long resume does not guarantee good judgement," he said); she was there when he acknowledged part of his  foreign policy platform is the principle that "strong presidents aren't afraid to talk to their enemies."

And the crowd loved it. I saw girls squealing, Beatles-style, and old ladies frantically waving their Obama '08 signs. Obama himself noted the diversity in age, race, ethnicity, and class -- both at the Expo Center and at his other campaign stops.

All the Democratic candidates will appear at a debate at Dartmouth College tomorrow night.


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