In Manassas, Obama's Last Hurrah
By Joel Achenbach
Like human landscaping -- an artificial lake of humanity -- the Obama supporters filled a vast swale at the Prince William County Fairgrounds on Monday night. This was the last rally for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, just 22 months after his December 2006 visit to New Hampshire unofficially jump-started the 2008 contest.
There had been something like 75,000 people or more at Obama rallies in Portland and Denver and St. Louis, but this one might have been larger still. People began streaming in at 5 p.m. Traffic on Route 28 south, heading into Manassas, became glacial three hours before the official 9 p.m. start time. Backups on I-66 at exit 53 extended for several miles. Most people parked in shopping centers or neighborhoods and walked the last mile or so, past the button and T-shirt vendors and a guy blasting a rather cheesy Obama "theme song." Someone on stage threw out a crowd estimate of 80,000, and later Obama, perhaps with more experience estimating crowds than most Americans, offered up 100,000 ("...that's how you wind up with 100,000 people on a Monday night in November").
[No more than 99,995 were old enough to vote, because I had brought five 17-year-old high school seniors who were somewhere out in there in the mass of people, and who later told me they survived the long wait (three hours plus) for Obama by dancing in place. Music: Kanye West; U2; Earth, Wind and Fire. At that age they can dance even without externally produced music. The only hitch in the evening, they said, was that they were so far back in the crowd they were barely in same Zip code as the candidate. My eldest reports, "You could squint and make out a little figure. But you couldn't tell it was Obama."]
Obama took the stage about 90 minutes late. A great cloud of what appeared to be dust drifted from behind the bleachers and through the air near the stage. Someone said it was fog, like a theatrical effect. No: just dust, stirred up by some element of the motorcade or entourage.
The senator used a teleprompter, but by this point he could have delivered his signature lines blindfolded and upside down. His voice seemed to have a little extra animation when he said of campaigning, "You can keep your dignity, keep your decency, and still win."
He told the familiar story about how a short lady in a big church hat taught him the "Fired up! Ready to go!" chant. He's told the anecdote a million times but seemed to relish the tale anew, maybe because he wouldn't have to use it again for a while.
"Virginia, your votes can change the world!" he roared at the end.
Lingering amid the traveling press corps was Obama campaign mastermind David Axelrod. He was optimistic going into Election Day. He noted favorable reports coming out of the field offices, and the polling showing Obama with an advantage, and the voter registration figures skewing toward the Democrats. But he remained cautious:
"I feel good about it. But it's all theory until it happens."
Washington Post editors
November 4, 2008; 9:02 AM ET
Categories: B_Blog , Barack Obama
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