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In Greenwood, Chant of 'Fired Up' Comes Home

By Alec MacGillis
GREENWOOD, S.C. -- To Obama supporters, it's a refrain that captures a movement. To skeptics, it's a cliche way past its sell-by date. And today, the Obama campaign returned to the source, where the "Fired Up, Ready to Go" chant was born.

By now, most anyone who's been to an Obama event or watched one on TV knows the story: In June, a South Carolina state representative prevailed on Obama to come to her hometown of Greenwood to meet with voters. He agreed -- perhaps, he jokes in the retelling, because he'd just had a glass of wine. When the time for the visit came, he was none too pleased about it -- he had to wake early, it was raining, and it was a long drive, since Greenwood is "an hour and a half from everywhere." When he got there, there were only 20 people at the event, due to a miscommunication. He was making his perfunctory rounds when, from behind him, there came a loud jarring shout: "Fired Up! Ready to go!"

It was the trademark chant of one Edith Childs, a stout, and stouthearted, Greenwood councilwoman who wears big colorful hats and knows how to light up a crowd. Pretty soon, Obama says, everyone in the room was doing the chant, and, "you know what, I'm starting to feel fired up." And thus was a campaign slogan born: Obama has told the anecdote dozens and dozens of times, as he rallies crowds into an enthusiastic roar with Ms. Childs' chant.

Today, perhaps as a final spark for a campaign headed into the stretch run before Saturday's primary here, Obama returned to Greenwood and told the story one more time. This time, though he slightly softened his usual lines about just how out of the way and unexceptional Greenwood is. He then invited Ms. Childs onto the stage with him to deliver the chant.

The crowd cheered; the national press corps was reassured that Ms. Childs did in fact exist. Dressed in the deepest purple, she did not disappoint, and carried the chant beyond the usual two-part call and response to include, "Go out and vote, Go out and vote, Obama, Obama, will be our next, will be our next, president, president."

Afterward, local resident Ernestine Willliams, a retired middle-school teacher, said it tickled her that Greenwood had become part of Obama's routine, and that she didn't mind that it was cast in the story as a godforsaken outpost. "It's great that a town in South Carolina of this size can inspire a person running for president," she said. "It is out of the way, and that's the beauty of his campaign, that he's going out of the way and reaching out to people."

As it turns out, Obama has another Greenwood connection: a member of Secret Service detail protecting him hails from the town. Obama pointed him out at today's event, a blonde fellow named Brad. "He can't smile while he's on duty. It's against regulations for him to smile," Obama said, needling the agent. "Give it up for Brad. I'm sorry Brad, I couldn't resist."

It was hard to tell from the upper rungs of the field house, but Brad might have cracked a smile.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 22, 2008; 5:40 PM ET
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