A man who sounds like a winner already
Friday 08 February 2008
It was the power of his smile. It shone a beam all the way to the back of the arena at Tulane University in New Orleans yesterday that none of us inside – all 4,000 seats filled – could miss. Outside, the overflow crowd of many more hundreds surely felt it too, even if they couldn't see it with their own eyes.
This was a new Barack Obama, liberated from the anxiety of the multiple Super Tuesday contests, buoyed by the realisation that the knock-out punch that Hillary Clinton had once predicted for herself that day had not come to pass and energised by the new flood of cash being given to his campaign.
Super Tuesday was also Mardi Gras, of course, and the necklace beads were still hanging from the live oaks along St Charles Avenue when supporters started queuing for Mr Obama shortly after a chilly dawn.
Louisiana holds its primary tomorrow, though most people here – a crowd more iPhone than Lower Ninth Ward – knew who they will vote for. "Yes he can!" is still the favourite chant.
And Mr Obama, who travelled also to two more states voting tomorrow, Nebraska and Washington, did not tire them with his pre-Super Tuesday addresses.
True some of his better jokes have survived, like the "embarrassment" of discovering last year that Dick Cheney is a cousin. It was a speech not even much about his stalemated match with Mrs Clinton. He did not mention her. It was about New Orleans and most of all about the "broken trust" between the city and the federal government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And it was delivered by a man sounding like he had won the nomination already. "When I am President of the United States, I will..."
The near-messianic cadences – uplifting to his followers, disconcerting to critics – remained of course. Barbara Ganucheau, 47, high in the stands, calls Mr Obama her "prince". When he appeared she began to cry. She was weeping still when he was done. "I get the chills from my toes to my head," she says of the candidate. Why is he her candidate? "It comes from inside of me, I just know."
The delegate pool in Louisiana is tiny – only 37 are available here after voting tomorrow. But almost every one will count. And Mr Obama came here, his first campaign stop after Super Tuesday, because the Crescent City offers him a metaphor for the messages of his own campaign – disappointment giving way to hope, the difficult past surrendering to change – that is too perfect to resist.
His list of priorities for New Orleans when he "becomes President" was long and detailed. But soon he was back in metaphors – and Ms Ganucheau was crying again. "To confront these challenges we have to understand that Katrina may have battered these shores – but it also exposed silent storms that have ravaged parts of this city and our country for far too long," he intoned. "The storms of poverty and joblessness; inequality and injustice."
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