In '08 Democratic battle, it's Obama's movement vs. Clinton's campaign
His candidacy works to inspire, while she appeals to reason and cites credentials.
WASHINGTON — With a booming baritone and a message of hope and change, Barack Obama is often described as a "phenomenon" and his presidential campaign as a "movement." Since announcing his candidacy last February, the junior senator from Illinois has routinely drawn crowds in the thousands. In the days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, people from all over New England, some with children in tow, came to catch a glimpse of the man who could be America's first black president.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, his top competitor for the Democratic nomination, is the product of a movement – the drive for women's equality – that has delivered her to this moment: the possibility of becoming America's first woman president. She doesn't try to compete with Mr. Obama on oratory. Instead, she is making an appeal to reason – that she too wants change, and unlike Obama, has the experience to deliver it. Hers is a more traditional, establishment-backed campaign, her supporters acknowledge.
Which model will prevail – the movement or the campaign – is anybody's guess. Each has the aura of a winner, having each won a nominating contest – Obama in Iowa, Senator Clinton in New Hampshire. And unlike former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) four years ago, whose presidential campaign surged as a movement, fueled by young people and antiwar activists, and then fell apart, Obama has already shown that he can turn a movement into a viable presidential campaign.
Eventually, analysts say, the battle will boil down to two highly organized, well-funded efforts that will succeed or fail based on how the candidates themselves persuade voters on the usual factors – electability, issues, experience, and character.
"In politics as in romance, passion doesn't last forever," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "[Obama] has to manage what all presidential candidates have to manage, and that's the balance between inspiration and substance."
Passion for both candidates
To be sure, Clinton's supporters can get just as passionate about her as Obama's do about him. William Klein, a Democratic publicist from Silver Spring, Md., says he's excited about Clinton both because of her experience and because she's a woman. He likes the fact that his 11-year-old daughter is excited about the idea of having a woman president.
The campaign emphasized her strength and experience, and "that made her a creature of the establishment," says Mr. Klein, who is not working on her campaign. "Her mistake was not acknowledging enough that her election would be historic."
Being an "establishment" candidate is nothing to apologize for. "I like that: She knows how government runs; she knows how to make good appointments," he says. "I don't want the 'politics of hope.' I want someone who knows how to get things done."
Duchy Trachtenberg, a county council member from Montgomery County, Md., went out to Iowa to volunteer for Clinton with other activists from the National Organization for Women. She saw firsthand the generational divide that has shown up in polls.
"Many of us began our journey as activists … at a time when women were paid less, when women didn't necessarily have the right to choose an abortion," she says. "Not that all of that's been resolved, clearly, in 2008, but some of that has improved certainly. So the idea that in our lifetime, we'd be able to support a very strong, credible, experienced women and that the possibility is there, it exists, it's very exciting to those of my generation."
"It could be for younger women, Senator Clinton's candidacy doesn't quite mean the same thing," she adds.
For the New York senator, the Catch-22 of her campaign is that, no matter her skill and intelligence, she got to where she is at least in part because she is a Clinton – and she's running for president in a year when voters are yearning for change. Obama has tapped into that, in a way that voters rooting for a woman president have not.
Patrice Gancie of Washington, D.C., and her husband decided to spent part of winter vacation in New Hampshire, volunteering on the Obama campaign and showing their teenage sons democracy in action. They came away impressed with Obama's organization – not to mention the crowds that came to see him.
"I went up there supporting him as a candidate. I didn't understand how much of a movement it was until I actually walked into Nashua," says Ms. Gancie, who works for an adoption agency. "He's kind of letting us dare to believe in ourselves again."
Obama's inclusive language
Observers who have studied the rhetoric of both Obama and Clinton note that Obama uses a lot of inclusive language – more "we" and less "I" or "us against them." It's rule No. 1 of community organizers, to bring people along with you, and not just stand there in a bull's-eye.
"Hillary's mistake is that she's not crafted a theme for her campaign," says Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. "When she stands up there, she says, 'Look at my experience. I'm going to fix it.' Fix what?"
He adds: "Obama says, 'This is what we're going to fix. We."