Presidential candidates and their supporters are converging on Wisconsin over the next week in advance of the state's primary on Tuesday, February 19. Madison is no exception. The city has already seen an appearance by Chelsea Clinton at UW-Madison on Monday, and will host visits by Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee on Thursday. A stop by Hillary Clinton is also expected, though no details have been announced, nor any visit by John McCain. The highest-profile visit by far, though, is one by Barack Obama at the Kohl Center on the night of the Potomac primaries.
Live-blogging of the Barack Obama rally in Madison follows.
Though there weren't too many new talking points or turns of phrase made by Obama during his speech, his overall message was as stirring as his listeners have come to expect. This was the first time I have seen Obama speak live, and it definitely lived up to expectations. The next week will tel how effective it was in turning out votes.
The candidate is only now making his way off the floor, taking a break from the public for the night before hitting the road for three more Wisconsin stops on Wednesday. Obama will be giving a "Major Economic Policy Address" at the Janesville GM plant in the morning, followed by stump speeches in Racine and Waukesha.
Obama faces a thick crowd of supporters extending hands and cell phone cameras as he exits the rally. The crowd in the stands is departing as well, making their way from the arena as reporters move to grab photos and quotes. In all, the speech lasted about 25 minutes.
Starting with the Progressive era in Wisconsin, Obama returns to discussing the broad geography of the nation and ends in Denver, the site of the Democratic National Convention this summer, in his campaign to win the nomination.
The crowd stays at its feet, cheering as Obama waves to supporters and shakes hands on his way off the floor.
The candidate focuses on his own upbringing, discussing his family's support and the political battles he fought while working as a community organizer in Chicago and as a representative at the Illinois statehouse. "The politics of hope does not mean that things come easy," he says.
Obama discusses the challenges faced by the Founders, by those fighting to end slavery, by the Greatest Generation's overcoming the twin challenges of the Great Depression and Fascism, the struggle for workers to organize, and the battles for civil rights a generation ago, challenging the crowd to make their own mark on America. "That is what hope is," he declares. "When we instead join arm and arm and decide we are going to remake this country," he continues, "this is our moment, this is our time."
Obama moves on to the biographical sketches, telling the apocryphal stories Americans looking to improve their lives. He focuses particularly on education and the need for college students to pay for their schooling, and suggests an exchange; tuition assistance for service. He says: "We'll invest in you. You'll invest in your country. Together we'll move forward. America, that's what we dream about! That is our calling in this campaign, to reaffirm that fundamental belief, that I am my brother's, my sister's keeper."
"Yes We Can!" So start the chants from the crowd and so responds Obama. The next phase of his speech turns towards the rhetoric of hope, invoking the American Dream and the "common hope" of each in the nation to improve the lives of their families.
Obama plows forward, decrying the influence of lobbyists and the outcome of "free trade" policies. The war in Iraq is next, with the candidate saying Democrats must no longer vote on national security issues out of fear like "Bush/McCain Republicans," but rather need to "end the mindset that got us into war." He takes a shot at Hillary Clinton, condemning the authorization of the war as well as the lies that were used to sell it.
"Understand this: John McCain, the likely Republican nominee is an American hero and we honor his service to our nation," says Obama to applause. The cheers really come, though, when he compares the Arizona senator to George W. Bush and says that the current president and "my cousin Dick Cheney" will not be on the ballot.
"John McCain won't be able to say I supported this war in Iraq, because I opposed it from the start," he says, criticizing the diversion from Afghanistan that resulted from the 2003 invasion. Obama goes on to note the likely Republican nominee's projection of a century-long commitment in Iraq to loud boos from the crowd, and plays again for cheers by declaring that monies spent on the war would better be used for health care and infrastructure in this country. "It is time to turn the page and start a new chapter!" he declares.
"Today the change we seek swept over the Potomac," begins Obama in his victory speech acknowledging the wins in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
"We have now won east and west, north and south, and across the heartland of this country," declares the candidate in a refutation to critics questioning his electability. Obama also notes his support among young people, Democrats, independents, and Republicans, trying to stress the breadth of geographic, political, and demographic diversity he's hoping to ride to the White House.
"We can't keep playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players," he declares in a common refrain in his stump speeches. "We're going to put this game to an end!"
"Wow!" responds Obama to the adoration. "What an unbelievable crowd, thank you," he continues, the hoops fan noting that he is standing near one of the 3-point lines at the home of the Wisconsin Badgers basketball teams.
Obama thanks Doyle, his wife Jessica, their sons Gus and Gab, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and new endorser Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. "Thank you Mayor Dave... Cieslewicz, for your outstanding work. I always love this city." He also thanks a UW for Obama student organizer for putting the entire event together.
Obama emerges to a standing ovation to the tune of "City of Blinding Lights" by U2. The candidate shakes dozens of hands while approaching the stage, the crowd's cheer increasing in pitch as he ascends the stage to stand with Doyle and subsequently acknowledge all of the standing supporters. There are easily the loudest cheers of the night... so far.
Doyle stresses the themes of change and unity in his speech, urging voters -- "pleadin' with ya" -- to do everything they can to turn out the vote in Wisconsin next Tuesday. "We show the country Wisconsin values, we show the country the kind of candidate Wisconsin stands for," he declares to an audience wearing plenty of Badger red.
As the crowd starts building in energy, Doyle does too, and declares: "I now present to you, the next President of the United States... Barack Obama!" The crowd roars.
The crowd rises to its feet and gives a warm but not too loud cheer to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle as he takes the stage. "Hello Wisconsin," he greets the crowd, noting that Obama has been projected as the winner of the Maryland primary now. The response is ecstatic. Doyle notes that this gives Obama a win streak of eight states in a row. "Next Tuesday, in this state of Wisconsin, we're going to make it nine!"
As the canned tunes ranging from country to hard rock once again start blaring from the speakers in the arena, John Nichols and another reporter are talking closely with Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod in the press pit. A team from CBS 2 in Chicago waits behind them for their shot at the insider.
The audience cheers as the jumbotron scoreboard starts playing "Yes We Can", the Obama speech mashup music video created by will.i.am. of the Black Eyed Peas and released online just over a week ago. There's no doubt, in my mind at least, this is that exceedingly rare political campaign ad that reaches the level of art.
The official 8:15 p.m. start time of the rally has come and past, which is no surprise, but it's clear that this will be a late night at the Kohl Center. The crowd has tried to drum up energy a few times by sporadically shouting more chants and doing the key-jingle kickoff rally, but for the most part people look to be waiting to hear from Barack himself.
One Obama supporter he she writes, "but I think he owes me a pair of SmartWool socks."
The second wave of the night starts, complete with the classic Camp Randall sequence of slow, fast, and a reverse. Speaking of counting things, one member of the press present suggested that one good metric for the night might be to use a hand counter to tally the number of times the crowd shouts "Yes We Can!" None have been heard so far, at least en masse.
I feel like I'm back at a Minnesota Twins game back in the '80s, as that golden oldie "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang starts blaring from the speakers around the arena. Audience members have made a few attempts to start chanting during a brief lull in the program, but most people look content to be talking and snapping photos.
Subrahmanian encourages the crowd to hit the streets over the next week in advance of the Wisconsin primary, and asks them to fill out a variety of forms that the campaign is using to count and collect supporters and activists. Then he urges them to type in the number 62262 -- "that is Obama," he says -- and one can text "WI" there to learn about the status of the campaign in Wisconsin. He also encourages the audience to type in their name and hometown to this number too.
J.R. Ross reports that the Kohl Center is indeed at capacity, with an additional 2,000 or so persons watching from an overflow room.
Up next is Obama regional field director Krishnan Subrahmanian, who starts off the political show by organizing a call response chant across the floor of the arena, one side shouting "Fired Up!" and the other "Ready 2 Go!," giving voice to the banners hanging in the arena.
The emcee directs his opening comments to the students in attendance, emphasizing that students in Wisconsin are indeed allowed to vote in the state. "We want you to vote for Barack Obama next Tuesday!" he declares.
Brian, a campaign volunteer and UW student starts the rally proper, emceeing its opening. "Is this an Obama campus?" he asks to a heavily-student crowd. The crowd roars in reply.
CNN reports that with today's projected win in Virginia, Obama now leads Clinton in the delegate count, by 1,170 to 1,168. That divide will likely grow as returns from Maryland and Washington, D.C. are reported. This definitely will be a victory speech.
A capacity crowd is filling the arena now, with pretty much every seat on all three levels looking like it's filled.
The Kohl Center is getting loud! Another campaign video for the Illinois senator is screening on the jumbotron scoreboard, blaring louder than a hockey horn at times. The crowd is likewise adding to the buzz.
The local side of the press pit is pretty well-filled up now, with representatives from a myriad of Madison-based media outlets present. These local folks include John Nichols, Matt Rothschild, Stu Levitan, and others.
The crowd is starting to get animated, meanwhile, with a counterclockwise wave swirling around the arena.
Another cheer goes up from the crowd as the jumbotron, once again playing CNN, shows Obama leading in Virginia by some 20 points with nearly half of the returns in so far. It looks like the candidate's fans are going to have a good night.
J.R. Ross at WisPolitics is also noting the growing crowd in the Kohl Center. Meanwhile, live-blogging of the rally by Angelo S. Carusone likewise notes the crowd, occasional cheers, and misidentifies The Kissers as a "ska band."
A brief cheer erupts from the growing crowd as a campaign video biography of Obama starts playing on the center scoreboard. The Kohl Center is nearly full now, all three levels occupied on all sides.
The crowd cheers as a talking head on CNN states that the Republican candidates face an increasing numbers of self-identified conservative voters giving their support to Obama.
The first level of the Kohl Center is nearly completely full, as is increasingly so the upper two levels. A space at the west end of the arena adjacent to the stage remains largely empty, meanwhile. The Kissers close their set with a spirited and high-volume jig titled "No War."
The Kissers are now singing a song that includes a chorus in which the IRA prominently figures. It's a meaningless factoid, but a reminder of one of the U.S.'s diplomatic achievements in the '90s during the Clinton administration. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promise to turn the nation away from the unilateralism that has defined the Bush years, of course.
The Kissers dive right into "Kicked in the Head," their volume starting to slowly get overwhelmed the growing noise of conversation in the rapidly filling Kohl Center. The live TV is now off the scoreboard, which has reverted to a field of blue sporting the Obama sunrise.
The crowd looks pretty relaxed at this point, many simply are sitting back in the jackets and looking about the room. All ages of people are present, including more than a few very young children. Even though these infants and toddlers won't remember the rally, their parents are doubtlessly looking forward to telling them: "You were there."
The south side of the arena is staring to fill now too, as increasing numbers of people are brought in from the cold for the rally. This includes the second and third levels, as what looks like will definitely be a capacity crowd starts to get settled in for the rally.
The first level of the Kohl Center is starting to fill up, with the sections being seated one by one in a counter-clockwise direction. The main volunteer section is on the Dayton Street side of the arena, with multiple homemade painted banners made by volunteers hanging from the rafters. Shouting slogans like "Fired Up" and "Ready 2 Go" and the ubiquitous "Yes We Can," they're adding a bit of (presumably desired) grassroots effect to this very slick set-up.
6:17 p.m. 6:10 p.m.
Both CNN and
The music starts, and the floodgates open. Numerous people are starting to filter into the first level of the Kohl Center, with select scores ushered to front row seats for the Obama speech. The scoreboard unit is now broadcasting CNN, which actually happens to be live from the floor of the arena. Specifically, Candy Crowley is talking to Wolf Blitzer as an increasing number of young people gather around the stage.