Barack Obama at the Jefferson Jackson dinner

The campaign’s already got the video up on YouTube:

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(You can see it here if you’re having trouble seeing the video in a feed reader.)

Four years ago, Robin and I drove to Des Moines to see Dean and the other candidates at this same event. It was a remarkable night, not so much because the speeches were new, but because we were participating in the process, and seeing the mechanics of the Iowa caucus machine up close. It was fascinating, and I can still recall much of the evening as if it was last night.

I thought Barack’s speech tonight was good. He was stronger than he’s been in prior events, and he drew sharper distinctions between himself and Hillary than he has before. I thought Edwards’ speech was excellent, Biden’s “joke” trying to needle Obama’s supporters was weak (the guy just has no sense of time and place, you know?), and Hillary saying she wants to attack America’s problems instead of her opponents is a nice gesture, but I think a mistake. Voters want to know why they should support her instead of one of her opponents – and with Barack and Edwards in particular pointing out her vote for the war, her support of the Lieberman/Kyl amendment (authorizing Bush to rattle the saber towards Iran) and her inability to unilaterally denounce torture of POWs, it’ll be hard for her to ignore those attacks and remain the front-runner.

In 2003, I was surprised at how coordinated Kerry’s supporters were. And that was an early indication of how well-organized his Iowa operation was – a key factor in his eventual victory there. As The Politico notes, the JJ Dinner is a chance for the candidates to see whether their operations are up to snuff. From my vantage point (courtesy of C-SPAN), Obama’s supporters seemed to dramatically out-number the others (but see the comments on my 2003 post to see that my ability to judge supporters’ numbers is at least of questionable accuracy), and more importantly, they were very well organized.

Think Hillary’s campaign took notice? You bet. Check this out (again, from Politico):

At least two of Hillary Clinton’s upper-echelon advisers, Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn, were decidedly unimpressed .

“Our people look like caucus-goers,” Grunwald said, “and his people look like they are 18. Penn said they look like Facebook.”

Penn added, “Only a few of their people look like they could vote in any state.”

Nice. Insult the supporters – a sure way to win favor as you go into the Caucus. Watch for this over the next few days – if the breadth and depth of Obama’s support in Iowa gets any traction in the press, the Clinton camp will try to argue that they have “real” supporters and Barack doesn’t. This is a tough line to walk: arguing that the old folks support you and those crazy kids aren’t worth paying attention to, well, I can see a few ways that might bite you back in the weeks ahead.

Don’t get me wrong – Obama’s got a decidedly younger base of support, and younger voters aren’t exactly known for putting in the hours in January necessary to make it through the Caucus. But I think he did well tonight, and I expect we’ll see the race continue to tighten in the next few weeks. (Oh, and remember my prediction earlier in the week about how he’ll win? Look at that – the race is already tightening in New Hampshire.)

Update: Garance Franke-Ruta, who I fell in love with as a result of her early coverage of Dean in 2003 (“Dean makes you feel like you’ve been waiting your whole life for someone to say what he says”) was in the balcony and has a great write-up of her impressions, writing that “Barack Obama, on the other hand, finally gave the speech his supporters have been waiting for him to give all year. If anyone comes out of this dinner with The Big Mo, it will be him.” Michael Crowley from The New Republic says the night didn’t change much, but that Barack was the clear winner, and that Hillary’s presentation was stilted and ineffective.

One response to “Barack Obama at the Jefferson Jackson dinner”

  1. I have a better feeling for what you mean about Obama being a momentum speaker. When the crowd gets behind him, he can go places that no other candidate can.

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