Political Capital with John Harwood

Obama Draws Crowds: Do They Really Show Support?

Barack Obama

Barack Obama trails Hillary Clinton in polls nationally as well as in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire. But he continues to draw impressive crowds--which is sometimes, though not always, a leading indicator of political momentum.

Last night in the small farm town of Carroll, he packed roughly 500 into a community center. Peg White, a local city council member, and her husband Jim, a banker, told me it was a far larger group than other candidates have drawn there. Obama delivered his new stump speech, in which he laments the increasing distance between Wall Street and Main Street and blames the influence of lobbyists for the wrong turn America has taken. Jim and Peg, registered Republicans who have drifted toward Democrats in recent years, were impressed.

But crowds don't guarantee support at caucus time. Jim and Peg want to look at other candidates, in both parties. Today in Sac City, the Obama campaign staged an invitation-only event in Stephanie Frederick's backyard. The idea was to keep the crowd size DOWN--not something most campaigns have to worry about--to provide a more intimate setting for local activists.

Obama has a cool, modern and TV friendly speaking style--not emotionally rousing in the way politicians used to be and something still are. That occasionally restrains the audience response to him.

Still, he was well received in Sac City just as he was in Carroll the night before. Stephanie's 13-year-old daughter Rachel said she would rather hang out with the "awesome" Obama than with Zac Efron, star of the High School Musical teen hit movies; as the father of three girls, I can tell you that's a strong statement.

But Stephanie herself still has reservations. While she finds Obama impressive, the most important issue to her is opposition to abortion. Could she support Obama even though he backs abortion rights? Not clear. She also wants to hear from Fred Thompson, the Republican who jumps into the race tomorrow in Des Moines.

That's a long way of saying: this is a fluid race that remains competitive on both sides. Plenty can change between now and January.

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