David Axelrod, the Obama Campaign's chief strategist, spoke to a few reporters inside the mammoth Toyota Center just as Barack himself, to a deafening roar from the crowd of 19,000, took the podium shortly after 8:30 PM. "It's a repudiation of the negative campaigning," Axelrod said. He was discussing the win in Wisconsin--the really interesting evening event, not the Houston mega-rally. On the press riser, the talk was numbers. The assumption was that Obama was late to appear, not because he wasn't in the house, but because his advisors and he were backstage huddled over the same numbers. The polls in Wisconsin had closed less than an hour ago. "We won among voters with incomes less than $50,000," Axelrod said. "We won among low income voters, we won women, we won among late deciders." In the end, Axelrod didn't spin Wisconsin women quite right. Hillary Clinton won a greater percentage of their vote, but Barack Obama nearly equaled her.
While Obama himself floats above the fray, giving speeches about hope and change to overflow crowds and hosting roundtable discussions with ordinary folk on various issues--a hybrid of "feeling your pain" and policy wonkery, his campaign team have been engaged in an escalating war of words with their Clinton counterparts. The Obama Campaign itself has begun to make small forays into negativity. Earlier in the day, the campaign held a conference call with Ohio State Representative Tom Letson "to discuss Senator Clinton's visit to the Mahoning Valley." What's she done now? It turns out that she's having second thoughts about NAFTA (nothing new there--she's mentioned them in several debates). Ohio Rep. Letson finds it morally suspect that Hillary Clinton has changed her mind, and the Obama Campaign is giving him an outlet for his ire. A reporter for the Dayton Daily News challenges Letson: "More recently she's said NAFTA hasn't worked as they [Bill Clinton and she] expected it to. What's wrong with that?" Indeed.
So another twenty thousand people have come out to hear Barack Obama. The question is: what will it mean for the Texas Democratic Primary? Since the Houston crowd is about evenly divided between black and white, with only a sprinkling of Hispanics, as well as the other ethnicities that make up Houston, Barack Obama has a lot of work to do here in the next two weeks. But with the Houston rally he has laid down a marker. His campaign is going to spend a whole hell of a lot of green in Texas. A bunch of tightwads (since June I've been keeping a list of their small economies), the Obama folk have been saving their money--for Texas and Ohio, it seems. What they must have spent on the Houston rally, where all the tickets were free, is extraordinary. The Obama Campaign not only rented the Toyota Center but also chose to have the food and drink concessions open (and therefore paid for the staffing). The campaign had to hire extra security, both Toyota Center and outside agency. They paid for the police overtime in directing traffic before and after the event. For once, they hired a good band. Most amazingly, those dark blue "Change We Can Believe In" 16x20 placards that used to cost $2 apiece the campaign gave away--at least 10,000 special Texas edition ones. The campaign passed out 20,000 brochures on voting twice, in both the primary and the caucus. The Obama Campaign has a clever name for this: the Texas Two-Step.
David Axelrod said that the campaign plans to contest every part of Texas. To accomplish that feat in two weeks, Obama will have to call on a lot of surrogates. It will be interesting to see whom he taps. Senator Kennedy will be stumping for him the end of this week in South Texas, Hillary's stronghold.
Barack himself is off to a good start with the Houston speech, responding to recent criticisms that he is all inspiration and no substance. "It's going to take more than big rallies," he says right off, to bring about change in Washington, which "has become a place where good ideas go to die." It's going to take the help of average Americans, as well as "bringing new people into the process." "Good intentions are not enough," Obama admits, recalling the battles he lost, despite good intentions, in the Illinois legislature. "I know how hard it will be," he says.
Wherever Barack Obama may lead us, his supporters, including those in Houston, are ready. A signpost may be the adjuration that got the biggest response of the night. "We will make college affordable for everybody," Obama says. He receives huge applause, as always, for this campaign promise. But then he warns, "you will have to give something back in return, some kind of community service," and the applause is even greater.
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