Obama-Clinton rally in Kissimmee sparks rock-star energy

Jim Stratton | Sentinel Staff Writer
Thursday October 30, 2008

KISSIMMEE – Barack Obama, campaigning with the last Democrat to hold the White House, made his case for the presidency Wednesday in a dramatic late-night rally that drew tens of thousands of supporters and the world’s media to a damp, chilly field in Osceola County.

Obama, joined for the first time by former President Bill Clinton, told an estimated 35,000 people at Osceola Heritage Park that the nation could return to prosperity if it rejected the "failed policies" of George Bush and Jone McCain and embraced the "values and ideals we hold in common."

After weeks of a combative, plain-spoken tone on the stump, Obama resurrected some of the language and tenor that first brought him national attention.

Taking the stage just after 11 p.m., he said the "size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics." He called Americans "decent, generous people willing to work hard and sacrifice for future generations." And he urged supporters to practice "a politics that calls on our better angels" instead of feeding "our worst instincts."

Obama took pains to praise Clinton — with whom he’s had a testy relationship — saying "nobody makes the case for change that works for the middle class quite like President Clinton."

"We all wish that the last eight years looked a lot more like the eight years we had when Bill Clinton was in the White House," he said.
Clinton filled the role of cheerleader in chief. "I think it’s clear the next president of the United States should be, and with your help will be, Barack Obama," he said.

Clinton said Obama has the right philosophy, the right policies and the intellectual heft to handle the job of president. Taking a jab at President Bush, he said the past eight years should have taught Americans "that we want a president who wants to understand and who can understand."

Big-name pairing

For Democrats, the appearance of Obama and Clinton was a little like having Elvis and Springsteen on the same ticket. Supporters came from across Florida and the Southeast. Some lined up six hours before the gates opened at 8:30 p.m.

Kris Dunham made the trip from Daytona Beach, arriving at 2:30 p.m. to ensure she had a good spot. As temperatures dipped into the 40s, she huddled with her friends, clutching a sign she had made: "I am NOT Joe the Plumber. I am Kris the Customer Service Rep."

Dunham never attended a political rally before, but has been drawn to Obama for months. She said she sees in him the ability to "bring people together." "He’s someone we can believe in," she said.

Robert Mason used almost the same words in explaining why he traveled from Atlanta to see the Democrats’ biggest stars. Mason became sold on Obama after watching him during the meltdown on Wall Street in late September.

"To be that even-keel in a crisis spoke volumes," said Mason, 48, the owner of a magazine catering to black high-school students hoping to go to college. "He truly appeared presidential."

Florida has emerged as Obama’s knockout punch. He is pouring enormous resources into capturing its 27 electoral votes.

He campaigned here for two full days last week. His running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, just wrapped up a swing through the state. If Obama wins Florida, there is virtually no chance John McCain can win the White House.

McCain, always a tough campaigner, has fought back by increasing his ad buys and his presence in the state. He did a 200-mile trek through the state last week and returned Wednesday for a daylong trip that featured rallies in Miami and West Palm Beach and a national-security round table in Tampa. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stumped in Tampa and Kissimmee on Sunday and might return to the state this weekend.

Polls suggest Florida remains up for grabs. An average of public polls by the Real Clear Politics Web site gives Obama a 3.5-percentage-point lead.

Captivating scene

Wednesday, Obama’s speech contained the usual attacks on McCain and the Republicans. He said they have ignored the middle class and coddled corporate America. He repeatedly linked McCain to President Bush, claiming that on economic issues the Arizona senator "has stood with this president every step of the way."

But Obama’s words — typically his most potent political weapon — were secondary to the spectacle and images: the candidate flanked by Clinton addressing a big crowd against the backdrop of a massive American flag. Actor Jimmy Smits fired up the crowd before the headliners arrived.

Though Obama’s events routinely draw intense media attention, few compared to Wednesday’s late-night rally. Drawn by the pairing of Obama and Clinton, himself an international celebrity, more than 100 journalists packed onto the field and two sets of press risers. Some came from as far as Japan. The appearance with Clinton clearly was designed to impart on Obama a presidential seal of approval.

CONTACT: Jim Stratton can be reached at [email protected] or