On Friday, I was part of a crowd of 500 in a Fort Wayne auditorium cheering Michelle Obama, who can match her husband when it comes to eloquence and charisma. I was directed to a seat on stage, just behind the podium (Jeff snarkily suggested that the campaign wanted me in camera range, to prove that Obama does attract SOME older voters!).
A trip to Indiana leads me to Obama.
By Charlie Huisking
The title of this blog is Luxury Traveler. But let's rename it Political Traveler for this edition.
I am in Indiana, the post-Pennsylvania place to be for anyone obsessed, as I am, with the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
I came to Indiana primarily to help my friend Jeff, who has inherited a business in Fort Wayne. But the chance to observe a historic election in a pivotal state was an added inducement.
Readers of this blog know I'm a passionate Obama supporter. Since I couldn't campaign for him in Florida, I’ve volunteered to knock on doors and pass out fliers here.
Michelle had a cold and a hoarse voice, but she spoke for an hour and was in turn funny, poignant and inspirational. As she mixed with the crowd afterward, I told her I had missed her reception at Caren and Dick Lobo's house in Sarasota in December, so I was glad to get another chance. Her face brightened at the mention of that event, and she thanked me for coming.
Early Saturday morning, I was on the road to Marion, a rural community of 30,000 about 45 miles from Fort Wayne. Barack Obama himself was the attraction this time. He was scheduled to appear in a high-school gymnasium at 10:30 a.m.
Two hours beforehand, an exuberant crowd of 2,500 filled the place. I again snagged a seat right by the podium, in the front row of the bleachers. It was a scene right out of Hoosiers, with basketball championship banners, some from the 1920s, hanging from the rafters.
The audience was about 70 percent white, and encompassed young couples, black women wearing their Sunday church hats, and men with leathered faces wearing International Harvester caps. We all chanted "Yes We Can" and clapped along to "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" on the sound system.
Obama arrived early, bounding onto the stage wearing a white shirt and tie.
He was introduced by Bernie Smith, a 55-year-old Marion resident who lost his job when the RCA factory shut down four years ago.
"I was raised a Republican, but I'm not going down that road again," Smith said to cheers. Clearly nervous, he stumbled a bit during the introduction, finally turning to a beaming Obama and saying, "I"m sorry, but this is the coolest thing that's ever happened to me."
The loss of jobs is a huge issue in Indiana, and Obama talked about it at length during his speech. Those critics who say Obama is long on soaring rhetoric and short on specifics should have heard this address. It was crisp, hard-hitting and full of policy proposals, with a dollop of inspiration here and there.
After the half-hour speech, Obama answered questions for another 45 minutes.
He also recognized a student in the crowd who had played a basketball game with him the night before. "They gave me a workout," he said. "I had to take Ibruprofin today." Showing off his hardwood skills in hoops-crazy Indiana was a shrewd move for Obama, especially after that unfortunate bowling incident in Pennsylvania.
As he left the stage, Obama walked by our row. I stuck out my hand and told him I had come from Florida to volunteer. "I can tell by the tan," he said. "Thanks."
As I left Marion, I noticed that the local theater was staging a production of Driving Miss Daisy. Hmm. A play about a charismatic black man and an ornery white woman.
Speaking of Hillary (whom I would vote for should she steal, I mean, win the nomination), I raced back to Fort Wayne to try to catch her rally at a downtown park. But the event, which attracted 500 on a cold, blustery day, was over.
That's OK. The election is more than a week away, so I'll probably have many more chances.