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Obama, in Campaign Mode, Pushes Reform

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 12 -- Recapturing the energy of his brightest days on the campaign trail, President Obama attempted Saturday to pull his signature health-care initiative out of the summer doldrums with a plea for help from thousands of his most dedicated supporters.

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"This is the hard part. This is when the special interests and the insurance companies and the folks who want to kill reform fight back with everything they've got," he told a cheering crowd at the Target Center here. "This is when they spread all kinds of rumors to scare and intimidate the American people. This is what they always do. That's why I need your help."

With his sleeves rolled up and without a tie, Obama used the spirited rally to move into what strategists optimistically call the "closing chapter" in his quest for sweeping changes to the nation's health-care system.

"We're now in the phase where we have to close the deal," Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, said in an interview. The push to sell the public on the proposed changes continues Thursday with a large rally in College Park.

Though the speech here was substantively the same as the one he delivered to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, the difference in setting and enthusiasm could not have been starker. Obama, who often speaks in professorial tones to explain his health-care plan, adoptted a preacher's cadence Saturday.

Slowly, he unspooled the oft-told story of the petite lady in the "church hat" in Greenwood, S.C., who first uttered what would become his presidential campaign's rallying cry: "Fired up! Ready to go!"

The story, he said, proved "how one voice can change a room.

"If it changes a room, it can change a city," he continued. "If it can change a city, it can change a state.

"And if it can change a state, it can change a nation," he said, reaching a crescendo. "It can bring health care to every American."

"They can't stop us!" he bellowed.

After the "drift" of August, Obama is attempting to "turn hope into success," said informal adviser John Podesta. In the coming weeks, the president and the extensive resources he commands will be used to lavish attention on two groups: Democratic lawmakers and middle-class Americans who are anxious about how the cost of extending coverage to tens of millions of the uninsured will affect their own health insurance and finances.

"You have assets you can deploy to make the case and bump up individual members" of Congress, said Podesta, who served as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and is head of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

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