Voters Offer Tweaks To New Frontrunner Obama
Manchester, NH -- With two days to go before the New Hampshire presidential primary, Senator Barack Obama seems poised to put the nail in the coffin of his chief competitor for the nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
But voters and analysts here say there are some areas in his resume and approach that the Illinois Democrat needs to address before he can truly close the door.
Mainly, they argued that Obama should tackle, head on, Clinton's criticism that he lacks experience, either by getting even more specific on individual policies, or offering up names or people whom he would appoint to a hypothetical presidential cabinet.
"I'm not worried about Obama," said Patrick Murray, a 41-year-old Independent from Boston. "[But] he's not perfect. The thing I want to see is that he understands his limitations. That he doesn't just ride his rock star status. I really want to see that his judgment is as good as I hope it is."
Said Richard Chretien, a 49-year-old Manchester native and Obama supporter: "The thing that keeps coming up is the experience piece... Clinton keeps hammering it. But I don't know if all that experience mounts for much. Obama has as much experience as John Kennedy did.... He needs to tackle it because that's what Hillary will be talking about for the next two days."
Peter Budryk, a 70-year-old undecided from Cambridge, Masschusetts, offered an even more specific suggestion. "Tell me who he will appoint as Secretary of State. And hopefully it will be Joe Biden. Because Obama's lack of foreign policy experience raises a question for me."
And Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George Bush suggested that Obama had to do a bit more to show viability in a general election contest.
"I thought [Obama's] Iowa victory speech was one of the best I've seen in a long time; a convention quality speech that made Hillary Clinton look small in comparison," the columnist told the Huffington Post. "[But] at this point in his campaign, Bill Clinton had a series of policy proposals to appeal to the middle. I don't see that from Obama on the domestic side yet."
For his part, Obama addressed these general concerns in a roughly half-hour address to 950 people at the Palace Theater in Manchester, New Hampshire. Mimicking the arguments that have been laid against him, he posited: "[Skeptics said] he [Obama] hasn't been in Washington long enough. We need to stew him and season him a little bit more and boil all the hope out of him before he is ready to be president. They were making these arguments for months in Iowa, and on Thursday the Iowans said no, we don't believe that. They understood that the real gamble in this election is to do the same thing with the same folks... and somehow expecting a different result."
By and large the crowd's response was passionate and, on occasion, downright obsessive. Several standing ovations peppered his address. People occasional screamed alongside him. Even prior to the speech, the enthusiasm was palpable. Lines stretched down the street and across the corner. The press, as is customary, came in droves. Many admitted that they weren't assigned to the Obama beat but had woken up early on a cold Sunday morning to catch a glimpse of the buzz surrounding the Senator.
It was an environment that Obama operated in with ease and confidence. His speech was interjected with humorous bits fit for a standup comedy act. Upon entering the hall nearly one and a half hours late, he casually commented: "It's kind of balmy outside. I didn't know what to do. I thought I was in the tropics."
Later on, when talking about his victory on Thursday in the Iowa caucus, he offered the following anecdote to hearty laughs from the crowd. "We have Republicans coming in. I know. They whisper to me, they pulled me aside, [Obama starts whispering into the microphone] 'Barack I'm a Republican, but I support you, and I'm changing registrations for this caucus.' [He stops his imitation] And I would say [only to start again] 'thank you, why are we whispering?'"
And as for the testimony from Lynn Cheney that her husband and Obama were eighth-cousins, the Democratic frontrunner professed to being "kind of disappointing. When they are doing these genealogical surveys you kind of hope you are related to somebody cool... Dick Cheney?"
One of the biggest applause lines came following a campaign speech staple.
I decided to run, he noted, because "I was betting on you, all of you. I was betting on the fact that the real agents of change throughout American history have always been the people. I was betting we were not as divided as our politics suggest... if we could just rally our voices together to challenge special interests and challenge ourselves to be better there is no problem we can not solve and no destiny we cannot fulfill."
Check out HuffPost's comprehensive on-the-ground New Hampshire coverage here.