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Obama’s ‘hopemongers’ find bliss in Minnesota

Barack Obama’s Minnesota victory is both hokey and cool. His naïve “hopemongers” radiate a public bliss you’ll never see at a Clinton or McCain event.

Barack Obama
REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
Barack Obama, with his wife Michelle, waves to supporters at his Super Tuesday rally in Chicago last night.

So here’s the lasting image from Barack Obama’s Minnesota victory party: you stumble into Trocadero’s, a downtown Minneapolis nightspot nearly as snazzy as the Illinois senator, and you notice very few people on what is usually a dance floor. The delirious masses, as it turns out, are all crammed on stage, backs turned, gazing up reverently at the big screen, swaying and singing to will.i.am’s viral “Yes We Can” video.

It’s hokey, and it’s cool, and a monkey will type the King James Bible before you’ll see anyone at a Hillary Rodham Clinton or John McCain event radiate such public bliss.

These naïve “hopemongers” (as Obama impishly dubbed himself) were also winners: Obama smashed Clinton 67 percent to 32 percent in the DFL’s presidential preference poll, a wipeout absolutely no one predicted. Obama’s highest-profile local backer, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, performed a neat political trick: he lowered expectations AFTER a win. Rybak said heading into the caucuses he had hoped Obama’s margin would be 5 percentage points; state Sen. Richard Cohen, a member of the Illinois Senator’s national finance committee, doubled that to 10. Not so nutty, really, when you recall Thursday’s MPR/U of M poll had Clinton leading 40 to 33. (This survey will not go into the Statistical Hall of Fame.) John Edwards took 12 percent; one high-ranking Clinton backer uttered an obscenity when the Son of a Millworker’s name was mentioned, lamenting the ill-timed exit of a candidate who might have split the non-Clinton vote.

In the end, Obama’s margin was 35 points, and this was no brie-and-Chardonnay metrocentric triumph: he won 61 of 77 counties reporting data and beat Clinton in every congressional district in the state.

Buck Humphrey, Clinton’s state chair, suffered the indignity of watching Obama outpoll his candidate in Humphrey’s own Plymouth caucus.

Sounds of ‘Kumbaya’
No one had a definitive explanation for the margin: the oldsters seemed genuinely dumbstruck; the youngsters were green enough not to know any better. Everybody sang “Kumbaya” to Obama’s cross-generational, pan-racial omnipartisan message of change. (Still, the victory party was not as diverse as Keith Ellison’s amazing Rainbow Cotillion of 2006; for one thing, there were very few Latinos.) Obviously, the megawatt personality that drew 20,000 people to Target Center Saturday continued to burn white hot on a record-doubling caucus Tuesday. George W. Bush gets credit for driving up Democratic attendance nationwide, but Obama may have topped him in the Gopher State.

Carl Holmquist, a volunteer from Minneapolis, made a sage observation: organization was an underappreciated campaign strength — Obama not only won Minnesota’s caucuses, he won every Super Tuesday caucus state. Architects of Obama’s Iowa caucus triumph, including former Minnesota DFL Executive Director Steve Hildebrand, backstopped the locals, who did the face-to-face persuasion that helped get tens of thousands of new voters to perform the electoral equivalent of crawling over ground glass. Clearly, the caucus system’s inefficiencies favor the candidate of the fevered.

(I asked Brian Melendez, the sly DFL party chair, if he was in favor of a presidential primary in 2012. “Tonight, I am,” he quipped. He said he’d gotten a dozen emails from strangers complaining of parking nightmares and caucus-night lines, all courtesy of a ridiculously tiny 90-minute window to cast one’s ballot. “Let’s just say the system has reached capacity,” he said of a 200,000-plus turnout that mocked the record of 80,000 or so set in 1968.)

Who’s Klobuchar supporting?

For the most part, though, Democrats were giggly. Rebecca Otto, the DFL state auditor, lives in May Township, a conservative dot in arch-conservative Michelle Bachmann’s congressional district. Four years ago, maybe 40 people caucused Democratic, she said; this year, it was 160 – and Obama won 2-to-1. “It was big, really big,” gushed Otto, who endorsed Obama last week, adding the ultimate caucus-night compliment: “I didn’t recognize most of the people.” Rick Stafford, a Hillary-backing DFL Central Committee member from Minneapolis, noted that “there was no silver hair” at his packed Powderhorn Park caucus. Melvin Carter, the newly minted St. Paul City Council member, reported margins of 8-to-1 for Obama in his staunchly DFL part of St. Paul.

One of the fun sports of the evening was tweaking U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar about when she is going to endorse someone for president. “Stay tuned,” said the famously strategic — and this year, cautious — pol. For a week? A month? Klobuchar, a super delegate, played Garbo. One confidant suggested she was waiting for the state’s Democrats to weigh in – that verdict now resounds. On the other hand, Clinton leads in the national delegate count, so does a senator stake a White House IOU on a come-from-behind shot?

Stafford — like Klobuchar, a super delegate — betrayed just a bit of wiggle on his pledge to support Clinton. “Obama won 2-to-1 in Minnesota; it’s hard not to respect the voters’ choice,” he said. With the nomination battle so tight, observers speculate that super delegates — party leaders and elected officials — may decide things, and Clinton currently has the advantage here. Stafford predicted the race “won’t come down to super delegates — the super delegates are all about unity.”

As the California result tipped to Clinton, a few of the grayer Obama beards committed a random act of sobriety: What if their guy had won the Minnesota battle only to lose the national delegate war? It was hard, they agreed, to see what red state Clinton would snatch in the general election from an all-but-inevitable John McCain. In the end, the optimism flooded back – several upcoming contests are in places (D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana) where Obama is expected to do well, and their man now has a 3-to-1 cash advantage with more time in any given state to send out his positive waves.

David Brauer covers media, Minneapolis City Hall and Hennepin County politics. He can be reached at dbrauer [at] minnpost [dot] com.