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Obama’s ‘hopemongers’ find bliss in Minnesota

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’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.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 02/06/2008 - 11:58 am.

    Last night was truly amazing. My precinct caucus had a previous record attendance of around 260 people; last night we had 787! Obama carried the day 557 votes to 208 for Clinton.
    This is a tremendous opportunity for Democrats. My worry is that if Obama wins the majority of contested delegates, the insider superdelegates and the unethical machinations of the Clintons in violation of DNC agreements in Michigan and Florida might still give the nomination to Clinton.
    People in Minnesota should contact the superdelegates –elected DFLers and DNC members to urge that they listen and respect the overwhelming majority of their caucus goers.
    Particularly, email these previous Clinton supporters who represent Minnesota on the Democratic National Committee:

    Jackie Stevenson:

    Rick Stafford:

  2. Submitted by Brad Lundell on 02/06/2008 - 01:46 pm.

    Very good work and astute observations David.

    We had an overflow crowd in Roseville. 322 voters in the precinct for the presidential preference portion of the proceedings (alliterative!) with about one-fourth of that sticking around for the Perilcean proceedings regarding resolutions. I neglected to offer my “Strong Navy/Fair Play for Cuba” resolution, seeing that it didn’t appear there were too many fans of either Alfred Thayer Mahan or Fidel in the crowd (probably a few more Fidelistas than I thought though).

    The one thing I am noticing is the number of Baby Boomers like myself who are really jumping on the Obama Bandwagon. Obama has captured the zeitgeist among a lot of party activists who really seek a change in the paradigm.

    It’s been sixteen years (or more), so a lot of people tend to forget the Clinton roots (at least for Bill) are hardly activist. He was an early participant (perhaps even amongst the founders of the DLC) and always billed himself as a “Third Way” moderate. Only the right wing’s utterly venomous disdain for the guy would make the Average Joe think he was a liberal.

    I can’t speak for everyone who has been around politics for a long time, but I don’t think I could take another 4 to 8 years of triangulation from a Democratic President.

    I’ll invoke the Gerald Ford Memorial Sports Analogy here on national college signing day for HS football players. I equate Bill Clinton with Glen Mason, who always seemed to have some level of excuse for why something couldn’t be done–whether it was the Republicans in Congress or this microtrend was clashing with this other microtrend and the lines on the graph just didn’t match up. Obama–and new Gopher football coach Tim Brewster–seem to say, “The heck with that.” You try to become President to do something and not just sit in the Big Chair. Obama seems to understand that better than Clinton (either of them) does.

    I like Hillary Clinton and empathize with her. She has played by all the rules that a sexist society has constructed and has achieved great things despite those obstacles. But again, the zeitgeist is going in a direction away from her.

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