Westerville: Part Two

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Following up on Karen’s post.

The program at Westerville Central High began an hour late, due, in part to Obama’s tardiness from this morning and to the time it took for him to greet inside and outside overflow supporters here. Yesterday, the campaign ran out of the 1,700 tickets they allotted for this “smaller” town hall meeting. An additional 750 lucky folks got into an overflow room where they will be able to hear Obama piped in through a speaker system. Eight hundred more people were turned away, according to Lieutenant Anthony Caito, a fire marshal for Genoa Township. “There were more people standing outside the Obama event,” according to ace AP reporter Phil Elliott, who attended both events.

I feel that I should underline: this is a different event than Clinton’s, which was a pep talk for canvassers. This is a “smaller” town hall, though small in Obama-world means 3,200 seeking entry. “One of the things that we’ve done is mix in smaller town hall meetings and intimate conversations like the one we did this morning on the economy,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama’s Ohio spokesman. Indeed, this morning Obama spent more than an hour speaking with a group of just 100 people in Nelsonville, Ohio. “I don’t think anyone can doubt Senator Obama’s ability to draw large crowds in Ohio,” LaBolt added, pointing to recent rallies that drew 11,000 attendees in Dayton and Cincinnati and 7,000 in Cleveland.

Obama attracted no such press luminaries (unless you count omnipresent Richard Wolffe of Newsweek, who posed for at least one snap-happy fan, and ABC’s Terry Moran, who was there to do an exclusive interview World News Tonight). I’m not sure what that means except that the press probably doesn’t except any surprises out of Obama over the next few days.

After a winding introduction from Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Obama took the stage to chants of “Obama! Obama! Obama!” and thunderous applause as a thousand people stomped their feet on the bleachers. As with almost every rally, someone screamed, “I love you, Obama!” To which, as always, he responded, “I love you, too!” Obama spokeswoman Jenn Psaki swung by as be began to give us a heads up that he planned to “push back” on Clinton’s foreign policy criticisms. And after remarks of the subprime mortgage crisis and the economic woes facing Ohio, Obama did hit back hard citing Clinton’s red telephone commercial:

Now, let me just make one last point because we’re getting very close to election time and we’ve consistently put forward these economic plans over the course of the campaign. And yet Senator Clinton continues to insist that we provide speeches and she provides solutions.

And the press has sort of bought into this because they want to keep the contest interesting, and I understand that. This is a fight about the facts because we have been very specific about every issue under the sun in the last few days and Senator Clinton has been running around telling people that our entire campaign, according to her, is only based on the fact that I gave a speech in opposition to the war in Iraq from the start. That is the only basis of my campaign. And then, on the other hand, she has, supposedly, all this vast foreign policy experience.

Now, I have to say when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation – the decision to invade Iraq – Senator Clinton got it wrong. She didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate, Jay Rockefeller read it, but she didn’t read it. I don’t know what all that experience got her because in my experience if you have a National Intelligence Estimate and the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, ‘You should read this, this is why I’m voting against the war,’ then you should probably read it. I don’t know how much experience you need for that.

She didn’t first give diplomacy a chance. And to this day, she won’t even admit that her vote was a mistake or even that it was a vote for war. And so besides that decision to invade Iraq, we’re still waiting to hear Senator Clinton tell us what precise foreign policy experience that she is claiming that makes her prepared to answer that phone call at three in the morning.

After taking questions, Obama circled back to Clinton and tried to explain his criticisms of her.

Senator Clinton is a strong candidate… and I’ve tried as much as possible to not talk about the flaws of the other candidates but why I’m right. And I think that the reason that we’ve done well is because people understand that it isn’t about the 10-point plan because we’ve all got 10-point plans… but about who can bring the country together and who can fight the special interests.

As a closing argument it’s powerful and it hits directly at Hillary’s claim of experience. Obama has made a concerted effort to avoid the listy, meat-and-bones political speeches, keeping his rhetoric soaring and inspirational while directing folks to his website, which actually does have a surprising amount of policy on it. It also touches on his strength with voters: they have very similar platforms (“we all have 10-point plans”) and if all things are equal, judgment (his Iraq vote) and energy are much more alluring.

Okay, we just landed in Chicago and I wanted to update per Mike M.’s point. Obama did kind of flub the Rockefeller reference, but he did it in a sly way that was factually correct but left the audience with the incorrect impression the the current Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, voted against the war in Iraq. Actually, Bob Graham was chairman at the time and he did read the NIE and he did cite it as one of his justifications for voting against the war. Rockefeller held an impromptu press conference in Westerville before we left, explaining the subtleties: he did read the NIE but he voted against the war. His, and Obama’s, criticism of Hillary is that she never read the NIE before she cast her vote. The Clinton campaign was quick to jump on the flub, sending out this press release:

“Sen. Obama is so desperate to divert attention from his limited national security experience that he’s not just misleading voters about Sen. Clinton, he’s also misleading voters about his own supporters. That is not change you can believe in.” — Clinton spokesperson Phil Singer