Monday, October 20, 2008

Campaign diary: Feeling the love

Campaign diary: Feeling the love
Medeshi , Mon Oct 20 , 2008
Barack Obama's supporters are nothing if not ardent. On Sunday morning I emerged from the elevator in our hotel in Fayetteville, North Carolina and felt like a movie star as about 50 people who were crowded in the lobby pressed forward excitedly. When they realised I was not actually Obama, or anyone connected to him, they slunk back disappointed.
Outside the Hampton Inn, there were another hundred supporters pressed together, some having arrived more than four hours before, desperate for a sight of the Democratic presidential contender. This time, I was a somebody. As I struggled to drag my bag through the crowd to our luggage van, one middle-aged African-American lady stopped me to demand to know if I had shaken Obama's hand. Yes, I had. So she grabbed my hand and pumped away. "I can feel the love!" she exclaimed, before her friend snapped a photo of me on her camera phone.
Crazy, but not as crazy as the scene that unfolded when one of Obama's staffers stopped by a gas station near the hotel to buy some cigarettes. On seeing her "Obama 08" fleece, the attendant screamed and dashed into the store's inner office. She emerged with 10 other people, who'd materialized out of nowhere and were convinced that the aide's presence meant the great man must be on his way. Alas, it was not to be. The staffer really did just want some Marlboro Lights.
There's a lot of love going round these days as the November 4 election approaches and Obama rides high in the opinion polls against Republican John McCain. On Saturday, an astounding crowd of 100,000 turned out for a rally by the Democrat in St Louis, Missouri. It was his biggest ever crowd in America, beaten only overall by the 200,000 who came to hear Obama speak in Berlin in late July.
In case you're wondering, those figures aren't just plucked out of thin air. Towards the end of every Obama rally, the campaign sends us a tally from a fire marshal, police chief or municipal official. And the person's cellphone number is attached so we can call to check for ourselves. (McCain's campaign has been accused of being rather creative about its crowd numbers).
Anyway, we're at the two-week mark before the election, and the love is going to explode for Obama when he returns to Chicago for an election night extravaganza. One of the outdoor venues under consideration by his campaign is Grant Park, site of a mass in 1979 by Pope John Paul II. The woman who accosted me in Fayetteville said, only half in jest, that she could feel some "healing power" from clasping my hand. Now who says Obama has a messiah complex?
By Jitendra Joshi

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