Barack Obama, Drawing the Big Crowds

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

MILFORD, N.H., Sept. 3 -- As Sen. Barack Obama led a rowdy mob down the street here during a Labor Day parade, an organizer wearing a Mitt Romney pin stood on the sidewalk and stared in astonishment.

"It's going to be tough to beat that guy," he said, shaking his head, to another man with a Romney sign.

Or will it?

Obama (D-Ill.) has not picked up measurable steam in the national polls since he announced his candidacy more than six months ago. His most obvious strength has been seen in the money he has raised and in the jaw-dropping sizes of the crowds he draws -- a sign of what his campaign says is its solid ground organization.

With the unofficial start of the primary season this weekend, Obama sought to sharpen the distinctions between his campaign and that of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the Democratic front-runner, taking swipes at the Washington establishment and the "cynical math" that he implied other candidates are using to calculate a narrow victory rather than a broad consensus.

"There are those who tout their experience working the system in Washington -- but the problem is that the system in Washington isn't working for us, and hasn't for a long time," Obama said in a speech in Manchester before marching in the parade here and attending an ice cream social. "Think about it. We've been talking about the health-care crisis in this country for decades. Yet through Democratic and Republican administrations we've failed to act. And you know why -- because the drug and insurance industries have spent over a billion dollars on lobbying in the past 10 years alone to block reform."

He continued: "Too many in Washington see politics as a game. And that is why I believe this election cannot be about those who can play this game better. It has to be about who can put an end to the game-playing. The times are too serious, the stakes are too high."

If the Milford parade several hours later was a snapshot of how Obama is faring, it bodes well. He drew by far the loudest and most boisterous group of supporters, who became so enthusiastic about marching that they started down the road ahead of schedule -- and were then banished by organizers to the back of the parade line. (The second-largest group was an orderly bunch of Romney backers, followed by a loud cadre carrying signs for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd -- though Dodd's group included many members of his family.)

The Obama crowd, with drums and brass instruments, yelled out: "Obama-oh-eight. Be a part of something great!"

At the front of his group, seven supporters -- each carrying oversized letters spelling his name, and the numbers 0 and 8 -- walked in formation and cheered. The woman carrying the letter "M" -- Gabrielle Grossman, 29, of Exeter -- said she had been an ardent Bill Clinton backer in the 1990s but could not support his wife.

"I love Bill Clinton," said Grossman, who wore an "ObamaMAMA" T-shirt. "But they are the old politics, and Hillary is a symbol of the old Washington." Grossman, who has a 2-year-old son, was one of a handful of supporters selected to have dinner with Obama on Monday night. Between that and walking with him in the parade, she said, it was one of the best days of her life.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company