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Firing It Up On the Stump

Obama working the crowd in Knoxville, Iowa. (Getty).

DES MOINES, Iowa--Sen. Barack Obama's stump speech is a work in progress - sort of like his presidential campaign.

One popular theory for why the Illinois senator lags behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in most polls is that he appeals to too narrow a portion of the Democratic electorate- the "wine and cheese as opposed to the beer and pretzels crowd," as Obama put it in a Washington Post interview. He refuted that explanation and offered another: He's a late bloomer. "What I do believe, and this was true of my U.S. Senate race, as we get along in the campaign, my stump speeches get more effective and I become a sharper campaigner," Obama said.

As speaking styles go, he is more jazz than pop. "I tend not to write out my stump speeches," Obama said. "Often times I'm sort of developing them on the stump, figuring out what feels right, what suits my voice. Listening to people's stories - that then informs how I'm talking."

For a while this year, Obama fans wondered if the senator's riveting 2004 Democratic convention speech was an aberration. His debate performances were uneven at best and his speeches could veer into wonkish territory.

As he crisscrossed Iowa on a bus tour this week, Obama honed his speech to include his new retirement security plan and more direct comparisons with his main Iowa rivals, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards. He polished up the closing portion, a riff on a early morning visit to Greenwood, S.C.

After a 90-minute trip in the pouring rain, as Obama tells it, he arrived to find a tiny crowd of 20 people. Grumpy and impatient, he starting shaking hands. Then a voice called out from the back of room: "Fired up! Ready to go!"
It was an elderly woman wearing her big church hat. "But here's the thing, Ottumwa,"

Obama told a crowd in eastern Iowa yesterday. "After about a minute or two, I'm feeling kind of fired up. I'm feeling like I'm ready to go." The audience laughed. "It goes to show you how one voice can change the mood of the room," Obama continues. "And if a voice can change a room it can change a city. And if it can change a city it can change a state. If it can change a state it can change a country, and if it can change a country it can change the world. Your voice can change the world. So I want to know - are you fired up? Ready to go?" The chant filled the school gymnasium as Obama walked off stage.

"There's no doubt that over the last several months, probably since Labor Day, I've felt very comfortable in the message that we're delivering and I think that's probably communicating itself to voters," Obama said.

--Shailagh Murray

By Washington Post editors  |  November 9, 2007; 11:00 AM ET
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