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Perceptions of Obama Shift with Strong Week
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Perceptions of Obama Shift with Strong Week

Election 2008: On the Campaign Trail


A week ago Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign was shadowed by doubts after losses in the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries. But on Tuesday he posted a 14 point win in North Carolina and fell just shy of a surprise win in Indiana. Since then a steady flow of superdelegates in his direction has erased Senator Hillary Clinton's lead in that category. In a matter of days Senator Obama went from appearing shaky to looking unstoppable. NPR's Don Gonyea is covering the campaign.

DON GONYEA: After weeks of questions about why he hasn't been able to win a big one lately, weeks in which his former pastor's controversial sermons dominated the news, Senator Obama's campaign seemed to get back in tune this week. On the eve of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, Motown legend Stevie Wonder warmed up his voice and an Obama crowd of 21,000 by singing a musical scale.

(Soundbite of musical scale)

Mr. STEVIE WONDER: Say Barack Obama.

CROWD: Barack Obama.

Mr. WONDER: Barack Obama.

CROWD: Barack Obama.

GONYEA: Then it was a reworking of one of his hit songs.

(Soundbite of "Superstition" Reworking)

Mr. WONDER: Let me hear you say Barack, the next president, say it.

GONYEA: The good vibe of that night carried through the next day and into a primary night rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. Obama talked about how the Clinton campaign wanted the state to be a game changer in the race.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): But today what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.

GONYEA: And within hours of that Tuesday vote, perceptions of the race underwent a sea change. He increased his lead in pledge delegates and accelerated his advance among superdelegates. On Wednesday the Clinton campaign confirmed it had been getting along on personal loans from the candidate and everyone doing the math could see the end was near. Here's Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Chief Strategist): And we believe that this momentum's gonna continue to build, superdelegates will continue to join, and we're gonna be where we need to be long before the convention.

GONYEA: On Thursday Senator Obama was back in Washington where he dropped by the U.S. House of Representatives and received a hero's welcome, but through it all he was careful not to claim victory.

Sen. OBAMA: In no way am I taking this for granted and we're gonna have to keep on working. Senator Clinton's a formidable candidate. She is very likely to win West Virginia and Kentucky. I mean those are two states where she's got insurmountable leads.

GONYEA: But those two states may not get a chance to make much difference. Over the course of the week the superdelegates kept coming Obama's way; four on Wednesday, three more on Thursday, then by mid Friday more than twice that number with several switching their support from Clinton. By the end of the week the lead Senator Clinton had held among superdelegates since last fall had evaporated.

At campaign stops it was clear that Obama's focus was now on the fall campaign and the race against John McCain. Here's Obama in Beaverton, Oregon yesterday.

Sen. OBAMA: So we have a fundamental difference on our priorities for president. John McCain wants to continue George Bush's war in Iraq, losing thousands of lives and spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fight a war that isn't making us safe. I want to end this war. I want to invest that money in America in our roads, in our bridges, in our ports.

GONYEA: The way things are going for Obama right now he can afford to be generous in cutting a deal that would seat the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations. A panel of the Democratic National Committee will meet to address that issue in Washington three weeks from today.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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