Eye of the storm
After the nation watched Wyoming, a reporter reflects on visits by the heavyweights.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
March 12, 2008
Electoral politics is little more than harnessing energy.
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama on Friday made rare visits to Wyoming looking to harness political power from the nation’s top energy-producing state.
Scotia Sutherland, of Casper, went with her daughter and husband to both Casper rallies observing separate “energy” at each. But she couldn’t put her finger on the differences.
What Sutherland likely felt was idealism and skepticism. After talking to people in the crowd at both events, I found that those who came to hear Obama almost unequivocally already planned to vote for him. They exuded a kind of giddy optimism in the political process and the future. They were not coming to judge, they were there to reaffirm their support.
Tears were a common sight after the lanky senator from Illinois strode into the arena to thunderous chants of “Yes we can.”
In a booming voice, Obama told supporters exactly what they wanted to hear in measured, eloquent phrases.
Obama’s supporters liked his stances and were familiar with the issues. Often the first thing out of their mouths when asked why they supported him was his message of hope and change.
“I just turned 40 and my lifetime hasn’t shown me a hero, but you can’t tell me they don’t exist,” said Julie Zell, of Jackson.
They were looking for a hero and that hero happened to be running for president.
At Clinton’s speech, the crowd seemed as if it had long since stopped searching for a hero and was now just looking for a candidate. Standing around in a stuffy, poorly lit gym at Casper College waiting for Clinton, who was more than an hour late, many seemed tired and a little bored. A far cry from the bubbly chatter preceding the Obama event.
More than half of those I talked to said they were undecided and came to the speech to see what Clinton had to say to convince them. Those that did say they were Clinton converts were swayed by issues; her health care plan seemed better, her plan for getting out of Iraq more realistic.
Clinton’s supporters have often been stereotyped as middle-age women and blue-collar workers. The rally didn’t really break any of those stereotypes.
Before jumping into her speech, Clinton thanked a list of unions for their support. The crowd was peppered with nurses still in their scrubs and railroaders sporting their pin stripes. Many came to the event right after work, they said.
The differences in organization that have been evident in Teton County for weeks were reflected in the rallies. That’s the nicest way to say that the Clinton campaign struggled.
Obama started his speech a little late. Clinton was more than an hour late.
While waiting, Obama had people talking to the crowd and keeping them busy. Clinton supporters had no idea where she was.
Though Clinton’s organization failed to impress, her speech did. Unlike Obama’s general refrain of change and hope, Clinton obviously boned up on Wyoming before stepping into the gym.
She started off with energy policy and clean-coal technology, praising the Legislature for passing the legal framework for carbon sequestration and promising to bring a clean-coal pilot project to Wyoming. The crowd of oil field workers and Union Pacific railroaders nodded their heads slightly in what seemed to be an affirmation not only of her policies but also that she actually knew what she was talking about.
But beyond the localized introduction, what most struck me about the two was how similar they were on key issues. On the Iraq war, college funding and taxation, Clinton’s and Obama’s philosophies seemed almost identical and their plans differed only by degree.
With such similar stances on the issues that matter to voters, it is little wonder that Obama’s magnetism has propelled him to the front of the race. I could feel the difference between the two the moment I walked into the room.