Sen. Obama Tests Waters in New Hampshire Illinois Sen. Barack Obama raised expectations about his possible presidential run during a New Hampshire visit this weekend.
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Sen. Obama Tests Waters in New Hampshire

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Sen. Obama Tests Waters in New Hampshire

Sen. Obama Tests Waters in New Hampshire

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This is DAY TO DAY. Coming up: We have a winner in the German Santa Claus contest. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

First, to New Hampshire, where maybe not even Santa could get such a reception as Barack Obama drew from Democrats, agog this weekend. The Illinois senator was on his first trip to New Hampshire. It is especially important for the presidential election coming in 2008, which we note the senator has not yet said he will join. He was in New Hampshire to autograph copies of his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," and because the governor invited him to give a speech. He did.

Slate chief political writer John Dickerson was there to take notes. John, welcome, and how did it go?

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, it went very, very well for the senator from Illinois. As you point out, New Hampshire was agog over Obama and everywhere he went it was standing room only. People were just excited about him, about the political process, and they really wanted to get a look at him because they are so excited, and even though it's early, they were sort of excited to be out so early.

CHADWICK: Excited hardly says it. Here's a quote that begins your piece in Slate. This is - you're quoting Brenda Bladen. She's a Democrat who's there.

She says that she likes Barack Obama because he's authentic. He's selfless. Inspirational. She goes on, quote, "I'm not comparing him to Jesus Christ, but"...

DICKERSON: This is what I kept encountering with - I talk to probably about 30, 35 people during the course of the day, and they were just going on and on about how Obama gave them a sense of hope, restored their faith in politics, and they were always kind of grasping for a larger set of words to explain what he meant to them, and she almost reached for the biggest explanation one could give I think about a human being.

CHADWICK: Why is it that he is saying to people that so inspires them? Or is it not what he's saying, but what he is?

DICKERSON: It's a combination of things. First of all, he's a very winning presence in the room. I mean he's just, he's absolutely at ease with himself, and what he's saying, though, and this is what really makes people so excited about him, is he's talking about a new kind of politics, and he's talking about something that's bipartisan, that doesn't have the kind of bitter recriminations and the anger and finger-pointing that we've seen so much of, and it just made them feel sort of excited about politics again in a kind of idealistic way. It's all generalities, of course, but they're happy with that for the moment.

CHADWICK: Wasn't that a message that George Bush pushed in the year 2000?

DICKERSON: Well, exactly. In fact, a lot of politicians push this message. When Obama quoted Lincoln and talked about the better angels of our nature, that's probably the 400th time I've heard that quote from a politician. So there is a general sense to this. But having said that, he delivers the speech very, very well, and the message maybe familiar, but it's kind of the whole Obama package that everybody was so enthusiastic about.

CHADWICK: I noted in the introduction to this interview that New Hampshire is going to be especially important in 2008. And the governor of Iowa has a role in that. Explain, please.

DICKERSON: Well, Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, is running as a Democratic candidate, and that in some people's view takes Iowa sort of out of the equation, because he's supposed to win Iowa. He's from there and so the caucuses that take place there may not have their traditional role. It's awfully early to tell whether that in fact is the case. But if it in fact Iowa is diminished in importance because it has a favorite son, then it puts all the more focus on New Hampshire as the first primary state.

CHADWICK: Speaking of awfully early, let's go into a poll. Hillary Clinton is ahead at 33 percent, I think, choice among Democratic voters. I saw those numbers earlier today. Barack Obama is second at 12 percent. You say it's awfully early. But here's kind of a quick gauge of where they stand, and Senator Clinton still doing very well.

DICKERSON: Senator Clinton doing very, very well. She's got very high name ID. She has lots of money. One of the things I ran into, though, in New Hampshire was there were a lot of people who really had concerns about the question of whether we want another Clinton in the White House. They had a lot of - sort of a general unease about her, and this is what it was feeding in part into the Obama frenzy. But that poll number shows that she's certainly still the frontrunner.

And also, we've yet to really see her campaign, and she's been through these before. And that counts for a lot in presidential politics.

CHADWICK: Slate's chief political writer John Dickerson, after spending the first of many weekends in New Hampshire on this election cycle. John, thank you.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

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