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A North Dakota Evening to Remember, Thanks to Candidate Star Power

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), left, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., right, present presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), with a University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey stick during the 2008 Democratic Convention in Grand Forks, N.D. on Friday April 4, 2008. (AP)

By Alec MacGillis
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- As proof of how hard-fought and drawn-out the Democratic primary has become, it's hard to top this: the two remaining candidates both detoured from the campaign trail Friday evening to address the state Democratic convention in North Dakota.

No, not South Dakota, which has yet to hold its caucus, a June 3 contest that could yet prove pivotal. North Dakota, which already held its caucus on February 5 -- and which wasn't exactly a delegate gold mine to begin with (it awards 21), helping explain why neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama campaigned in the state, though Obama invested in a strong organization that helped him win 61 percent of the vote.

So what in the world were the two candidates doing, alighting in the Alerus Center Arena, the cavernous home of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux football team, which was packed for the occasion with 17,000 people (more than for any non-sports event since Cher came in 2002)?

As best as could be determined from the campaigns and the state delegates on the convention floor, it came down to this: Obama was here as the keynote speaker, and to speak at a separate fundraiser for the state's Democrats, in order to return a favor to Sen. Kent Conrad, one of Obama's earliest supporters in the Senate.

More broadly, he came to bring thanks to the state as a whole, which delivered him eight of its 13 pledged delegates and six of its seven superdelegates (one superdelegate, the state party chair, is still officially neutral though suspected to be leaning to Obama, while an extra unpledged delegate is to named during the convention). And Obama may just have been looking ahead to November, when some Democratic optimists speculate that he, if he is the nominee, could put in play a state that voted 63-36 percent for George Bush four years ago.

And Clinton? The best theory going was that she came because she wanted to keep Obama from trying to poach an extra pledged delegate or two, and to keep his allies from maneuvering to get relatively soft Clinton supporters named to be her delegates in Denver, in hopes that they might switch to him later.

Obama has not yet flipped any pledged delegates from Clinton elsewhere, but Clinton says she is not averse to trying, since pledged delegates, while expected to follow their state's vote breakdown, are not legally bound to do so. "There is no such thing as a pledged delegate ," she said at a press conference Thursday. "The whole point is for delegates, however they are chosen, to really ask themselves who would be the best president and who would be our best nominee against Senator [John] McCain. And I think that process goes all the way to the convention."

It all made for quite a spectacle, unlike most anything North Dakota has seen since the excitement of a decade-plus ago, when the Coen Brothers went wild with a woodchipper in "Fargo" in 1996 and Grand Forks suffered a devastating flood and fire a year later.

The Grand Forks Herald provided breathless coverage of the showdown, including a blog posting announcing that Obama's plane had touched down. "Obama was aboard a Boeing 757 with a large American flag painted on the side of the plane," the paper reported. "Obama did not go through the terminal, rather his plane was off-loaded on the tarmac, and he and his group left the airport in several SUVs."

Even the even-keeled Conrad was giddy. "I just want [Obama] to know that this is a fairly typical turnout for our state conventions," he deadpanned, introducing the Illinois senator. "Sometimes we have a few more, sometimes we have a few less, I'd say, give or take 15,000." Turning serious, he said, "This is the biggest political gathering in this state in my adult lifetime."

Conrad and the state's two other congressmen, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, were sure to say nice things about Clinton, who would arrive an hour later, and her name was met with solid applause mixed with some boos. Obama entered to a roar, and wasted no time in rubbing in his North Dakota edge, as if trying to remind the hall how little time Clinton had spent in states like North Dakota until now and preempt any points she might score for her appearance.

"I know there's been some talk that maybe states like North Dakota don't count so much in this process," he said, referring to Clinton's downplaying of Obama's victories in red states and caucuses. "Some people think that the Democrats can't win in North Dakota so we shouldn't be putting so much time in here. Some people think that it's a flyover state, that it's a caucus state and caucus states aren't fair. Well, we didn't fly over North Dakota -- we landed ... We competed in this state and we will keep competing in it all the way until November."

Might Obama really have a shot to take the state in the general election? Lonny Winrich, a Clinton supporter from Grand Forks, thought it wasn't out of the question. "He has an uncanny ability to generate a lot of excitement. That could do it," he said. Ron Braaten, a former principal from Lisbon, N.D., agreed, saying that North Dakota seemed to be changing at just the right moment for Obama. "We're kind of looking for new things here," he said. "We're kind of waking up."

A true face-to-face Great Plains confrontation was averted as Obama flew out of town for Missoula, Montana shortly before Clinton arrived at the convention. But -- never fear -- another head to head awaits tonight, at a Montana Democrats' dinner that both are speaking at, this time in closer succession. Call this one the Battle of Butte.

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 5, 2008; 11:14 AM ET
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Posted by: Ethan brozp | April 10, 2008 6:03 AM | Report abuse

I cannot believe these so called Democrats who claim to be Clinton supporters saying they will vote for McCain.
No true Democrat would vote for another four years of what the republicans have done to our country. McCain has and does support Bush's policies. These last almost eight years have been filled with uncontrolled spending, an unjusitifed war, economy, education, medical care in complete chaos.
As an Obama supporter I would never resort to Carl Rove tactics against the Clintons.
And Obama has not either. The Clintons with everything but the kitchen sink started the mud slinging.
Let's get back to policies and making sure the Democrats get a chance to bring our country back to what it deserves to be.

Posted by: kathlenec | April 6, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Obama has run a brilliant campaign, founded on the principle of grass-roots organizing and adapted to the Web. The internet will change politics as much as the printing press did. Hillary is SO 20th century. She didn't even know what hit her.

Posted by: thebobbob | April 5, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Obama has run a brilliant campaign, founded on the principle of grass-roots organizing and adapted to the Web. The internet will change politics as much as the printing press did. Hillary is SO 20th century. She didn't even know what hit her.

Posted by: thebobbob | April 5, 2008 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Obasama needs to stick to Basketball.

First he tries Bowling and scores worse than my Grandmother-Who is 100! :-)

Now, he seems to think he can Score with that High Stick! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | April 5, 2008 8:19 PM | Report abuse

shrink2 --

You're in denial.

You're also quite arrogant.

That's a very dangerous combination.

It leads to very poor decisions.

I'll be glad to vote for McCain.

So will every other Clinton Supporter I know.

So will every Republican.

They hate it when people say "God Damm America" just as much as we do.

My loyalty to America trumps my loyalty to the Democratic Party.

As it does for most Americans.

My kids are the #1 reason I could never vote for Chicago Barry Obama.

I care too much about them to trust their future to an arrogant incompletent like him.

If Obama gets the nomination, he'll lose by a landslide.

Have a nice day with your kids.

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

i thought people might be interested in this london telegraph article about the rupert murdoch family raising money for obama. this is the same rupert murdoch who is a close political friend of tony blair and his iraq war policy, and owner of fox news.

Posted by: bredto | April 5, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

You won't vote for McCain. He will lose by a record margin if he does not toe the Bush/Cheney line and you say you care about poor people.

Lots and lots of Republicans are as angry about being lied to and played by the people they elected as we are. They will not vote for McCain and they sure won't vote for the Clintons.

Let's see what happens, we both can't be right. I am going to play with my kids, so good day.

Posted by: shrink2 | April 5, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

shrink2 --

You logic doesn't make any sense.

On the one hand, you expect Clinton supporters to vote for Obama after the vicious things Obama and his supporters have said about not just Hillary Clinton, but President Bill Clinton and even about their daughter Chelsea.

On the other hand, you expect Republicans to stay home simply because McCain's not conservative enough.

I'm not a shrink, but even I can tell denial and back-justification when I see it.

I don't think you understand just how angry Clinton supporters are, and how close to the center most of us are.

We won't vote for Obama.

But we won't just stay home either.

McCain's no "Bush Clone"

He's a pretty good guy.

He's much more competent than Obama.

McCain appeals to lots of Clinton voters.

We'll feel pretty comfortable voting for McCain.

Its not spite, its a question of who would be a better President.

So we won't stay home if Obama gets the nomination.

We'll vote, and we'll vote for McCain.

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Well it isn't really the person that this is about. There is a great article in the NYT today about that. Kinda' like Gandhi was a violent man, but he saved thousands from the blood bath the British were ready for. Hitler was by all accounts a better family man than Gandhi. Both sold opposite messages very successfully.

(1) Obama's message is correct and
(2) he can sell it.

We don't need to love or even admire the leader. In fact, Obama as a person is almost irrelevant.

After Bush, the world needs an American change agent and change agents are generally disposable. We are the people who need to change.

Oddly, the people who despise Obama care more about him than the people who support him. It is because we care about the effect he has on people.

Sure the D party is split, but that had to happen. The story of this election is the massive lead the Clntons lost to an unknown candidate who just happens to be building the largest political fund raising organization in history. Feelings get hurt.

Good news is the end of the Republican ability to lie and scare people into submission. I know you people think scaring us with McCain might make us settle for the Clintons, but the Republicans are not going to turn out for this election. There is nothing for them to vote for.

Posted by: shrink2 | April 5, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

My point is that there's no reason anybody should vote for Obama and no reason anybody will once they know the truth about him.

My point is that his actions don't match his image.

My point is that Obama's arrogant and incompetent.

My point is that he should not and will not be President.

My point is that nominating him means Defeat for Democrats in November.

My point is that the stupidest thing we Democrats can do is to nominate Barry Obama and that we shouldn't do it because Democrats can't afford to lose again.

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse


Your posts give strong indication that you wouldn't socialize with Obama supporters, whether professional or lay, just as none of my professional and lay friends are Clinton or McCain backers.

What's your point?

Posted by: hayeseric | April 5, 2008 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Watt's up doc:

Anyone who cites their CV then proceeds to use the phrase "paradigm shift", while assuring the great unwashed that you know what's best for us lumpen proles, is begging to be marginalized.

Obama is THE answer? God, you don't even know what the question is, mister smarty pants.

Posted by: dyend | April 5, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

shrink2 --

What proof do you have that Obama can bring people together?

He has no history of doing it in either the state or us senate.

He's done a lousy job of bringing the Democratic Party together as well.

Why do you think he can do it when he's never done it before and has actually done the opposite?

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

This took awhile because I had to get rid of the people up the street, the JWs who bug me all the time. They think they will go to hell if they don't stop trying to convert people.

So...52yo, Harvard residency, U of Washinton medical School, Williams College undergrad. Helicopter pilot. Read a book a week. No one ever accused me of being shallow. A doctor back in Cambridge told me it was hard to be my friend because, "You are a pain in the a ss, a guy who knows too much."

Very briefly, as I said above, I have come to believe that this country and the world are facing challenges so great that we need to stop attacking each other and start a collective process of paradigm change. The Clintons are not able to lead in this way. Obama is.

There are lots and lots of reasons, but I suppose the one noted here is the most important. We need inclusive leadership more than we need anything else right now.

Posted by: shrink2 | April 5, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

HILLARY under another sniper attack - AGAIN

Ohio Hospital Contests a Story Clinton Tells
Published: April 5, 2008

Over the last five weeks, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has featured in her campaign stump speeches the story of a health care horror: an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee.

The woman, Trina Bachtel, did die last August, two weeks after her baby boy was stillborn at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio. But hospital administrators said Friday that Ms. Bachtel was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment and that she was, in fact, insured.

"We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story," said Rick Castrop, chief executive officer of the O'Bleness Health System.

Posted by: gandalfthegrey | April 5, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

svreader wrote -
"All the MD's I know socially support either Hillary or McCain."

Who are these doctors you spoke of? Are these doctors perofrming your hair transplant and treating your ED?

Posted by: jellybean1 | April 5, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

That could do it," he said. Ron Braaten, a former principal from Lisbon, N.D., agreed, saying that North Dakota seemed to be changing at just the right moment for Obama. "We're kind of looking for new things here," he said. "We're kind of waking up." Its about freaking time all people of this country WAKE UP.

Posted by: ac11 | April 5, 2008 2:17 PM | Report abuse

shrink2 --

If you got through Medical School, internship and residency, you've got to be a pretty smart, level headed, guy.

Have you looked at any of the stuff that I and others have posted about what Obama's actually done vs. what he's said, especially his history of dropping the ball and failing to follow through in Chicago?

Did you read the NYT and WP articles about his lackluster perfomance in the Senate.

Or the articles about how he did nothing in Chicago for the people who voted him into office, but was given credit for lots of bills he had nothing to do with?

MD's aren't known as shallow thinkers.

Many of our best and our brightest go to medical school in this country.

How can a guy like you support a guy like Barry Obama, who's spent his entire political career campaigning, while completely failing to do the actual work of the jobs he was hired to do?

Is image that powerful?

Does perception trump reality in your book?

I'd really like to know.

All the MD's I know socially support either Hillary or McCain.

There's not a single Obama supporter in the bunch.

What state are you from and how old are you?

I'm curious because your support for Obama doesn't make sense to me, given what you do for a living.

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Too bad Obama doesn't care as much about Mi. and Fl.

Posted by: thejaner | April 5, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Clinton supporters will never forget and never forgive Obama and his supporters blocking the rights of Florida and Michigan voters.

Obama claims everything but does nothing.

If Obama becomes the nominee, Democrats will lose by a landslide and the Democratic Party itself will lose its core mainstream supporters and not just for this election.

This will go down in history as one of the great political blunders of all time.

Obama supporters have proven they have no loyalty to Democracy, to the Democratic Party, or even to America.

America will hand them a landslide loss.

Then, Americans will turn a hard eye on social programs to boot.

The damage Obama and his supporters have done and continue to do to the progressive movement is enormous.

Instead of moving us to the left, they'll wind up moving us to the right.

Obama's arrogance and ego, and that of his cult followers is going to do more damage to the left than Bush did.

George Bush and Karl Rove must think Barack Obama is their patron saint.

Heck of a job, Bambi!!!

Posted by: svreader | April 5, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The Clintons are wasting their time and what is left of their donors' money.

The move to a sustainable economy (neither cheap energy, nor bubble based) is going to be very difficult for a lot of people.

As we move away from an economy that depends on the growth of consumption, we need to develop an economy based on innovation, in other words, anyone with a job will need to have a real aducation.

A massive shift in the way money is made and spent will have to occur and for this, we need inspirational leadership.

Even if we grant Mrs. Clinton expertise in various technical areas, even if we are pretty sure Bill will not humiliate her and her daughter anymore, no one can see the Clintons leading this country and the world to a new way of doing business.

Our economic condition is not a matter of left/right, liberal/conservative. It is only about holding ourselves together and taking care of each other during a series of paradigm shifts that have to happen, like it or not. Qualitative change is what Obama's message is about.

Posted by: shrink2 | April 5, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse


Pretend that you're a Democrat (Hillary supporter)

Smear Obama with any of the following:

1. He's a Muslim
2. He's not Black enough
3. He's not White enough
4. He's not patriotic
5. He's a racist

note: never address any "issues", instead smear him with any association: his pastor, someone who endorses him, his wife, his father,etc. always make racist commments (i.e. compare him to Jim Jones), put his middle name in capital letters...and MOST IMPORTANT repeat it over and over (check FoxNews for latest smear)

remember: Americans are stupid! (look how we got them in the Iraq war!)

if you repeat anything enough, they'll believe it.



* note: this is generally true, but if Hillary is nominated, it doesn't matter who gets can vote for whomever you want....McCain is slightly better, but both are in our lobby's pocket, i.e. both Clinton and McCain will put America in our WARS


but not Obama


Posted by: kevinlarmee | April 5, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Re: "How many times has Clinton visited California since Super Tuesday? Tennessee? Oklahoma?"

Well, she really has no need to; none of those states are considered to be battlegrounds in the general. California is a reliable blue state, regardless of who wins the primary, and while the Clinton Camp loves to mock Obama's red-state victories, that's exactly what Clinton's Oklahoma and Tennessee victories are. (If Al Gore couldn't even take his home state of Tennessee, what makes her think she can?)

North Dakota is very similar to Minnesota, a reliable blue caucus state that also went over 60% for Obama. It may actually be flippable. Not a huge Electoral prize, but this election is looking to be a lot closer than was originally thought back in 2006.

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | April 5, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

As a native North Dakotan, I think the state is more Clinton country than Obama land. North Dakotans in general are practical and tough-minded. They like a work horse rather than a show horse. Too bad they didn't have a real election and get a look at the candidates before voting. Caucuses exclude many voters and tilt in favor of the activists and the physically capable. My dad is 90. He always votes, but there's absolutely no way he'd suffer through a caucus. That was one less vote for Clinton in N. Dak.

Posted by: SDakD-RayFan | April 5, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Sorry. Should have put:

Posted by: fitznew | April 5, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm a lifelong moderate Republican who supports Barack Obama because I'm worried about our country and it's clear to me that we need a new direction, not more of the same. Many of my Republican friends and family (especially my grown kids) are ardent supporters of Mr. Obama, and all that excitement gives me reason for optimism. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people in a strong Republican state like North Dakota would also find Barack Obama to be a candidate they can get behind.

Posted by: fitznew | April 5, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Quote from the story above on Obama's possibilities to win ND... "He has an uncanny ability to generate a lot of excitement. That could do it,"

And that about explains Obama with the Internet crowds as well;

Obama vs Clinton-
Social Bookmarking Sites & the Web:

Posted by: davidmwe | April 5, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

North Dakotans are upbeat, self-starting people (that's where I grew up) and I could see how Obama's message would ring well up there. This is also proof that he doesn't just care about states he needs to win, he cares about states that are in the past as well.

How many times has Clinton visited California since Super Tuesday? Tennessee? Oklahoma?

Posted by: thecrisis | April 5, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Em em em OBAMA the magicien !!!!

Posted by: orodepaul | April 5, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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