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Obama Draws a Big Crowd in New Hampshire

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Obama Draws a Big Crowd in New Hampshire

Politics

Obama Draws a Big Crowd in New Hampshire

Obama Draws a Big Crowd in New Hampshire

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Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama hasn't said yet whether he'll run for president. But he's already playing the field. On Sunday, Obama visited the key primary state of New Hampshire and received an overwhelming welcome.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

If New Hampshire residents want to meet a presidential candidate, all they have to do is go to the coffee shop, or the shopping mall, or the sidewalk, or anywhere else that a candidate is shaking hands. Candidates spend months building up enthusiasm at the traditional scene of the first presidential primary.

For Barack Obama it took only one visit to build enthusiasm. He drew record crowds yesterday even though he has not announced whether he will run in 2008. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: Fifteen hundred people paid $25 a piece to attend the New Hampshire Democrats victory party last night. But the demand was so great they had to make room for 700 more. The event was meant to celebrate the Democrat's historic victory in November: two new congressional seats, control of the state legislature for the first time since 1874, and Governor John Lynch reelected with 74 percent of the vote. But Lynch knew the real reason the crowd was so big.

Governor JOHN LYNCH (New Hampshire): We originally scheduled the Rolling Stones for this party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Gov. LYNCH But we canceled them when we realized that Senator Obama would sell more tickets.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Gov. LYNCH Sen. Obama should you choose to run, we look…

(Soundbite of cheering)

LIASSON: Obama said he won't make a final decision until January. But many Democrats here do want him to run. There were the DraftObama.org people, and the RunObama.com people, and there was Frank Chea(ph)…

Mr. FRANK CHEA (Communications Director, Students for Barack Obama): Mara!

LIASSON: …who rushed up all out of breath to introduce himself.

Mr. CHEA: I'm the communications director for Students for Barack Obama. We ran a press release, but I just want to let you know, we have 23,000 people who are registered as members of our faithful group. So it's like we're going to translate this online social network of support and we're going to make it a real political organization. We just launched our Web site today.

LIASSON: The object of all these attention was analyzing it as if he was on the outside looking in.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I have to confess that there's been a little bit of fuss about me lately. But I actually think that the reason that I'm getting so much attention right now has less to do with me and more to do with you. I think to some degree I've become a symbol for now of a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represented. It's a spirit that says we are looking for something different.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: We want something new.

LIASSON: In his speech, Obama called for universal health care, cheaper student loans and re-deployment of the troops in Iraq. But if his message wasn't that different from other Democrats, many people here felt the messenger was.

Barbara Kindleton(ph) because of all the buzz about Obama.

Ms. BARBARA KINDLETON: Did he live up to the hype? I think absolutely. He starts out simple, and then he keeps building and building; and it's amazing how he's able to energize and work the crowd and turn it around so it's -saying, it's not about me, when it really is all about him. But it makes you feel like you're empowered.

LIASSON: Kindleton's never been active in politics, but now she says she's ready to lick stamps for Obama. For Kindleton, Obama could be an alternative to Hillary Clinton who, she worries, has too much baggage to win the White House. Kindleton's husband John(ph) is a little more skeptical about Obama.

Mr. JOHN KINDLETON: He lived up to the hype coming in, because he was able to present those particular issues. Now I'm waiting for the plan that one uses to do it. Haven't we all heard it before in one way or another?

LIASSON: Like many other New Hampshire primary voters, Kindleton will wait to make up his mind about Obama until he's seen him several more times, preferably in his own living room.

Democratic leaders were stunned by the turnout for Obama, who's only been in the Senate two years. Former state party chair George Bruno says it reminds him of the weekend before the New Hampshire primary.

Mr. GEORGE BRUNO (Former Chair, New Hampshire Democratic Party): I have never seen such frenzy around a candidate's first visit to New Hampshire.

LIASSON: What does it mean?

Mr. BRUNO: I'm not sure what it means at this point. Certainly, he's an exciting new face on the scene. There's a huge curiosity factor. There is I think a thirst for a winner in ‘08, and this is his coming out party.

LIASSON: No other Democrat has had a coming out party like this one a full 14 months before primary voters to the polls. Last night, Barack Obama had New Hampshire all to himself. After the first of the year, that won't be case. Mara Liasson, NPR News.

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